I really enjoyed Kathryn Hunter’s performance as the Fool in the RSC’s King Lear and was intrigued by her performance as Cleopatra, but I thought Hunter’s performance as Red Peter the Ape was amazing. It’s one of those performances that just stuns because what happens in the performance is so unexpected.
I’d never been to the Young Vic before, but with unreserved seating I was keen to get there early so that I got a good seat. It’s a lovely intimate theatre, I was lucky to get a seat in the middle on the front row.
The performance was startling and exciting, while at the same time mesmerising, because it made you feel you were staring at Kathryn Hunter performing, rather than just watching. I was engrossed for the hour that Hunter is on stage. Hunter manages to use her body to great effect to portray the tragic story of Red Peter the Ape. Her character has supposedly become human, but the animal behaviours are slowly exposed. Tragically, many of the behaviours have been learnt from humans. Alcohol is used as a crutch to give Red Peter confidence to speak in public, and he takes small swigs from his hip flask, but it becomes clear through the performance that alcohol is also at the centre of his misery. As the human falls apart, Hunter is able to move her arms into incredible positions to suggest an ape’s body, but as the play moves on, she becomes the ape. It is a transformation from one state to another, but as Hunter is a woman playing a man, this adds another layer to the performance. At one point Hunter does the splits, and then stays in that position for some time before curling her leg behind her head. Even though the story is very dark, there was also humour in Hunter’s performance and some very good audience interaction, which at times relies on members of the audience to respond at the right time. I thought what Hunter did so well was to engage with the audience, whist at the same time focusing on the physical aspects of her performance. I must say that this is one of the best pieces of theatre that I have ever seen.
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