Berkoff's East is one of the most powerful examinations of the white working class culture in England. Set in London's East End, the characters are heavily stereotyped and yet they move us, make us laugh, help us understand the sterile nature of their lives and pose the question: why do we as a nation continue to see their talents wasted? The opening duologue sets the scene of a violent culture and the value of a person is determined by the extent of their injuries. First performed at Edinburgh Fringe in , this revived Snowdrop Production has already achieved acclaim at the Brighton Fringe in and this current run clearly shows why. As a Londoner, the opening overture of some of the most famous and memorable cockney songs is wonderfully familiar and sets the scene by introducing a sense of nostalgia, which is a key theme in the play. The father, played by Matt Devitt, brilliantly commands dinnertime with his stories of marching with Oswald Mosley conjuring up some of the worst examples of racism in this country.
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Five characters relay tales about their shady lives in a rough district, covering the bases of romance, family and friendship. The murkiness of the action is offset by the elevated Shakespearean idiom that the characters speak in. Mum Debra Penny and Dad Russell Barnett , who are part of the older generation, watch over the younglings, often reminiscing about the good old days. The coming-of-age theme is explored in a punch-drunk world.
Mike and Les are two Cockney lads who are full of masculine energy and vigour. These snarling blokes are products of an upbringing where questions of honour are resolved in blood.
The moments of violent tension are catalysed into a conflict by a braying crowd, who hurl profanities into the mix as the pair squares off. However, the eventual fight does not embitter them, but instead cements their friendship, after Mike and Les hobble to Charing Cross Hospital to bond as they recuperate.
Scene shifts are marked by vaudeville skits. These lighter comic exchanges are great ways to navigate the changes in time and location. We move away from the makeshift fighting arena behind a cinema to a breakfast table in two-up two-down.
Mum is an easy-going domesticated woman, languorously contemplating the Radio Times crossword, and Dad is a furious misanthrope: it seems that sloth and wrath loom over Mike, Les and Sylv in the form of these parents.
This tedium is what awaits the trio in the future should they fail to escape their surroundings. Sylv is the most sensitive to the fear of smashed dreams. On the other hand, if the role is reversed, a man who sleeps about is known an alpha-male player; there is less stigma attached. But Berkoff does not cast Sylv as plainly a man-hating feminist: her heartfelt oscillations between infatuation and disgust decry the sorry state of affairs that women have to suffer at the hands of belligerent apes, whom they are unfortunately attracted to.
The venue is cosy, so the ornate language is a great way to account for the relative simplicity of the set design. These Renaissance inflections to ordinary speech, grandiose metaphors of foggy breath being dragon smoke, help paint such a vivid scenes that go into this panorama of the East End. Log In. Remember Me. Lost your password? Continue the Discussion Cancel reply.
EAST by Steven Berkoff
He was born and raised in Stepney, east London, and the streets of his youth had already passed into history, bulldozed by postwar planners and social change. But East is making a comeback. The test for director Jessica Lazar is whether she can make it seem more than a linguistically acrobatic period piece written by a man who is better known by many as a villain in Bond, Rambo and Beverly Hills Cop movies. East was wildly audacious in its time for its depiction of working-class lives.
Steven Berkoff's elegy for the East End returns to London pub that launched it