Think I'm becoming a bit of a Eugene O'Neill fan. After Anna Christie at the Donmar last year, A Long Day's Journey Into The Night last month and now Hairy Ape I think he can slot in nicely with Miller and Williams for writing with an eye for the rawest of human emotions.
The Southwark Playhouse's production of Hairy Ape, while not without its flaws feels epic, bringing to life the sights and sounds of its ocean liner engine room and New York settings while never detracting from what it essentially an introspective piece on identity.
Yank (Bill Ward) is a fireman on a passenger ship. He toils away in the hellish bowels of the ship to keep the engine fires stoked. He belongs, he tells us. What he doesn't tell us about is his life before and outside the ship which makes this simple admission, of where he feels a sense of place, all the more saddening.
When a Mildred (Emma King), a rich, privileged young woman passenger requests a visit to the engine room her sense of disgust by what she sees and specifically the look she gives Yank knocks him for six. It is a rude awakening and his 'place', where he feels he belongs is permanantly and devastingly tainted by having been 'put in his place' by an outsider.
The Southwark Playhouse has surpassed itself with this one with the use of simple lighting, choreography and sound effects the production oozes atmosphere. Ward puts his heart and soul into his performance with a great effect but my only grumble is with his diction. His physical performance can't be faulted but at times the words get lost in the growl of the accent which is a shame because O'Neill writes so beautifully.
Nonetheless it is definitely worth seeing and runs at the Southwark Playhouse until June 9. And I'm giving it a very solid 4 stars.
Mitchel Mullen who plays two different characters was also in Made in Dagenham which starred Andrea Riseborough who's trode the boards with Mr W in The Pride on Broadway.