Kate Herbert is theatre reviewer, Herald Sun, Melbourne & formerly for Melbourne Times. Kate is a director & produced playwright (20 plays). Scripts published by Currency Press. She worked as an actor, comedian, improviser & teacher of Acting, Improvisation & Playwriting. Kate is currently Convenor of Professional Writing & Editing, Swinburne University. Read her reviews here or at: www.heraldsun.com.au/entertainment/arts. NB Explorer Browser doesn't always work on blog.
Wednesday, 22 March 2006
East by Steven Berkoff, March 22, 2006
East by Steven Berkoff
La Mama at Courthouse Theatre, Wed to Sun 8pm until March 22 to April 1, 2006
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on March 22, 2006
Steven Berkoff once said that, when actors read an early script of East, its graphic language shocked them and this prompted him to rewrite it into verse.
It is the collision of the verse form and Elizabethan language with the East End cockney dialect, songs and characters that makes this play so potent.
Any production of a Berkoff play suffers comparisons with Berkoff’s own idiosyncratic performance style. The script itself demands heightened characters, a broad physical style, a capacity to deliver verse and vocal acrobatics. East demands enormous versatility from an actor.
John Bolton certainly directs this production with great imagination and an emphasis on grotesque characterisation. The direction is sleek and the frequent segues between scenes are seamless.
Each of the cast, all recent graduates from VCA School of Drama, is energetic and creative in his or her character interpretation. However, some roles cry out for an older actor, particularly that of the father.
Andre Jewson is a capable actor whose strengths are evident but his youth reduces the impact of Dad’s raving outbursts.
The two Bovver Boys, Mike (James Ballarin) and Les (James Re), are the pivotal roles and set the tone for the entire play. It is their violent and sexual antics that are the focus of the action.
Ballarin and Re capture the physicality of the Bovver Boys and perform with great vigour.
Sarah-Jane St. Clair, as Sylv, the closest target of their misguided sexual aggression, embodies her sultry, provocative and street-wise nature.
Simon Morrison-Baldwin plays Mum in drag with appropriate resignation to her lot. If the role is not to be played as a jaded middle-aged woman, a young man in drag is probably a good choice.
The play is not a linear narrative but rather, the characters self-narrate episodes in their lives in East End of London. Their dialogues, monologues and ensemble scenes highlight the embedded violence, prejudice and desperation of their daily interactions.
The characters are grotesque as is Berkoff’s language. The audience is confronted by sexually explicit language and ferociously lurid and sickeningly violent imagery.
What remains at the end of the play is a sense of the pointlessness and tragedy of these wasted lives. There is little or no love in the family life. There is a joylessness in the sexual relationships and deep-seated anger and frustration in the violence.