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The Hairy Ape

Published 30 October 2015

What’s it all about?

This is the Eugene O’Neill play, the impact of which on US theatre, when it was first staged in 1922, was as thumping as a gorilla’s fist on its brawny chest.

Why? Because it took a hefty dollop of inspiration from European expressionism to tell the story of muscle-bound stoker Yank, who struggles in the most visceral fashion to understand and justify his place in a society that places him at the very bottom of the heap.

Who’s in it?

Fresh from his limber performance in TV hit Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Bertie Carvel is a threatening, aggressive presence as Yank. At this time of year, he feels like a Frankenstein’s monster, all sweat and sinew, lost, confused, dehumanised and bristling with a lust for vengeance on those who have created him and his situation.

What should I look out for?

The symbolic flourishes concocted by director Richard Jones, designer Stewart Laing and choreographer Aletta Collins, from mechanised, machine-like fire-stoking to giant looming man in the moon balloons and the co-star, reminiscent of a certain Dairy Milk advert, who appears for the final scene.

In a nutshell?

This is no chimps’ tea party; Bertie Carvel bristles with confusion, arrogance and sweaty anger in O’Neill’s expressionist masterpiece.

What’s being said on Twitter?

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Will I like it?

If you like a bright yellow receptacle, a spoonful or six of symbolism, a dash of bizarreness and a drinking challenge, this will be just your cup of expressionist tea.

From the melting pot of stokers’ accents to the faceless upper classes – a perfect theatrical Halloween costume if you need a topical tip – this production asks much of you as an audience member and is strikingly imaginative. I’m sure Eugene O’Neill would have been stoked.

The Hairy Ape plays at The Old Vic Theatre until 21 November. You can book tickets through us here.

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