THE HAIRY APE
by Eugene O’Neill.
Southwark Playhouse (The Vault) Shipwright Yard corner of Tooley St and Bermondsey St SE1 2TF To 9 June 2012.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Sat 3.15pm.
Runs 1hr 30min No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7407 0234.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 30 May.
O’Neill’s harsh, rough picture has the frame it deserves at Southwark.
It’s the audience that’s divided, into four quarters, while the gang of stokers heave coal from central gangways into their ship’s engines; back-breaking, heavy-sweat work. And when they’re collapsed in a heap, the talk runs on memories, or into arguments. There are hopes and battles, personal and political. But Yank is over-all aggression.
And when he sees a vision of human loveliness, a white, blonde creature in floating, fragile dress, framed by sudden, searing white light from outside, it leads to an insult that prompts a new discontent in him. Yet rich girl Mildred, ignoring warnings from her aunt and higher-level crew, curious to see the engine-room, then repelled by it, is a spoiled child, taking advantage of her father being a shipping magnate to get her way.
She contrasts the harshness director Kate Budgen emphasises around in Eugene O’Neill’s drama, helped by Jean Chan’s setting and the beams of piercing light, red hell, and ultimate darkness created by Richard Howell’s lighting.
Driven by this, and being called a hairy ape, Yank prowls the streets once on shore. It’s a brutal lonely world where he goes through prison to rejection by the union, which fears his violent intentions, to the zoo, where he finds a fellow hairy ape to release, meeting a final rejection as it leaves him for dead.
It’s a piece ideal for Southwark Playhouse. Alongside the recorded roar of ship’s engines there’s a supplementary rattle from trains passing overhead. The space echoes voices used to shouting – any loss of clarity is compensated by the relentless environmental noise, and later, by blackness and bare space, interrupted only by the bars of prison and zoo.
For in the end, after lying in one of the prison cells, each with its sole inhabitant, and being cold-shouldered by the union men, Yank ends in a darkness broken only by his voice and the low growl of an unseen gorilla replacing the engines’ roar, and leading to the quiet conclusion with Yank dying alone, in the same place on stage where he’d started in the midst of his mates, angry and energetic.
2ndEngineer/Policeman/: Stephen Bisland.
Mildred: Emma King.
Paddy: Gary Lilburn.
Prison Guard: James McGregor.
Prison Voice/Gentleman: Mitchell Mullen.
Secretary of IWW: Patrick Myles.
Aunt: Lizzie Roper.
Yank: Bill Ward.
Long: Mark Weinman.
Director: Kate Budgen.
Designer/Costume: Jean Chan.
Lighting: Richard Howell.
Sound: Tom Gibbons.
Movement: Lucy Cullingford.
Voice/Dialect coaches: Yvonne Morley, Tim Charrington.
Hair/Make-up: Laura Wisinger.
Assistant director: George Chilcott.