10 January – 3 February, 2018
by Steven Berkoff
Directed by Jessica Lazar
Steven Berkoff’s East is a play that you can just imagine knocking people’s socks off during its debut in 1975, and still has a powerful relevance to today. It’s a riotous and profanity fuelled comedy, and a brutal take on growing up and living in London’s East End.
It’s a roar of cockney working-class dissatisfaction. Everything is heightened. The language, the characters, the emotion, the comedy. Written in a Shakespearean-like verse, Berkoff’s writing is often beautiful, often moving, and sometimes occasionally incomprehensible (in the best traditions of verse), but deftly brought to life by an exceptionally talented cast.
Jack Condon (Les) gives an exceptionally expressive and empathetic performance to an otherwise often distasteful character, while his brother Mike (James Craze) and Dad (Russell Barnett) ooze presence and hyper-masculinity.
The highlights of the show are the wonderful monologues. Hilarious, human, and often disturbing. Particularly moving was Boadicea Ricketts’ (Sylv) diatribe against patriarchal power and double standards which felt straight from heart, and sadly is not a monologue that has lost its poignancy. She gives a performance throughout the show that beautifully balances strength and sensuality with moments of touching vulnerability.
Not to be left out is Debra Penny (Mum), whose monologue was my favourite part of the show. It’s hilarious and vulgar and I’m not going to forget it in a hurry.
Jessica Lazar’s direction is energetic and vibrant, youthful and clever. The action is physical and slick, while also being layered and engaging.
I felt a little alienated by the play however, and struggled to connect with the piece and its characters outside isolated moments. This surprised me, since I enjoyed all the elements of the performance individually. I suspect it owes something to my being a recent immigrant and not quite understanding the many British references. Some of the biggest laughs went right over my head. Still, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the show as a great one to see with a drink and a mate.