I spent autumn 2015 in the studio, theatre and rehearsal room, composing sound and music for a new production of Eugene O’Neill’s Expressionist masterpiece The Hairy Ape (1922). At The Old Vic, London, directed by Richard Jones.
Written in 1922, The Hairy Ape tells the tells the story of Yank, a labourer who revels in his status as the strongest stoker on a transatlantic liner. When Yank is called a ‘filthy beast’ by the overbred daughter of a steel merchant, he experiences an awakening of consciousness that leads him on a journey through the wealthy neighbourhoods and disenfranchised underbelly of New York society. Directed by Richard Jones, this revival is a balletic Agitprop trip. Jones describes it as a ‘bullet’. It moves rapidly from location to location, one minute in the stokehole of a liner, the next in 1920s New York. Bertie Carvel plays the troubled protagonist Yank. Set design is by Stewart Laing and lighting by Mimi Jordan Sherin.
The soundscape I’ve created makes extensive use of found sounds (collected from metal furniture, submarine gear, steam engines, bowed lampshades and oil cans, violins, vegetables, Charleston records and many other sources – often I was grabbing objects in the morning to improvise new cues for the rehearsal room that day). I reworked these sounds extensively to create the different moods and scenes of the play. Much of the sound accompanies strange and exquisite choreography from Aletta Collins, showing men at work in the stokehole, the upper class grotesques of New York and more.
Read some thoughts on noise and modernity and see some fascinating newspaper clips about the first productions in Europe, in the 1920s.