THEATRE REVIEW & Q&A: The Hairy Ape starring Bertie Carvel

WORTH A LOOK?: ***

WHERE: Old Vic

WHEN: 12/11, runs to 21/11

We’ve seen Bertie Carvel within a few short months as a doomed king in ancient Greece (Bakkhai), a cheating modern day husband (TV’s Doctor Foster) and now a brutish American 20th century ship labourer.

He is a complete chameleon of an actor, unrecognisable as the common link between each of these hugely different roles. Tonight he is sitting on stage answering our questions after we have seen him in this rarely performed Eugene O’Neill 1922 work about a ship’s fireman, Yank, who finds it difficult to discover his niche in New York.

‘I struggled to do Bakkhai at the Almeida and learn this,’ Carvel remembers. ‘It’s the Kilimanjaro of all roles.’

He lost weight for Doctor Foster and was given the opportunity to bulk up under the guidance of a personal trainer for Yank (see picture above). ‘By the end of my run in Bakkhai I was bursting out of my shirt.’

Carvel’s Yank has 70% of the dialogue in The Hairy Ape. Says Carvel: ‘I’ve never felt so exhausted after a performance. The hardest thing about being an actor is that you carry your character around with you through a run. You find yourself wishing a show away.’

Carvel’s most successful role so far has been Miss Trunchbull in Matilda which he performed 650 times, including on Broadway, and which won him an Olivier. He’d love to do another musical and describes how happy singing makes him.

Carvel is by far the best thing about this production. The designs are eye-catching and clearly seem to be influenced by the pioneering work undertaken just down The Cut at the Young Vic.

The choice of material under new Old Vic artistic director Matthew Warchus is certainly displaying a social conscience. Perhaps next production Dr Seuss’ The Lorax can reinstate some of the fun the Vic has also done really well in the past.

Picture via Facebook courtesy The Old Vic copyright Manuel Harlan. Hairy Ape tickets here.

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