Pros: A tour de force of in-yer-face theatre. Outstanding performances in an outstanding play.
Cons: With effing and blinding and violence in abundance, this is not for the faint-hearted.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I love pub theatres. Seeing an empty bar an hour before a performance steadily become more and more packed with buzzing audience members is a beautiful thing. Before the play began, a member of staff reminded us of the work that goes into keeping these glorious productions afloat, which brings me to your part of the bargain: go and see East.
Steven Berkoff’s East has come back to the marvellous King’s Head Theatre, where it first met London in 1975. East takes us back between 50 and 70 years ago to East London, where playwright Steven Berkoff was born. His fury and fondness for the area and the era is unleashed by five equally superb actors, who display a frenzied and enlightened mix of physicality and verbal zest. This is the first play I have been to review this year, and if I follow the common mantra of ‘start as you mean to go on’, I really don’t think I could handle the excitement.
East really struck a chord with me. A wade through some feelings of nostalgic familiarity begins the play, as the cast sings My Old Man (a favourite of my Nan’s), a song about the hardship of working class life in London. It was in the first minutes of the play I knew I was watching something special, with the fantastically violent, yet oddly heart-warming, first scene between the two brothers Mike and Les, played by James Craze and Jack Condon. Berkoff has taken the brutality of the hard life of East London youth and turned it into poetry. The quasi-Shakespearian text is littered with profanity, but stylistically feels as if it has been written by the old bard himself, both fluid and frightening.
The text, whilst brilliant, is not the absolute highlight of this show. The physical performance from all the cast, brilliantly put together by director Jessica Lazar, is startlingly vibrant. Berkoff’s physical style of theatre is shown to be as fresh as it ever was. From miming a trip to the seaside, to Mike riding Les as a motorcycle; from a family scene with the dinner table becoming a table-top march, to some unsettlingly realistic fight scenes. Aside from chairs and a multipurpose wooden frame, there isn’t much in the way of props, but this cast and this production don’t need anything but themselves to paint many vivid and stimulating scenes.
Author: Steven Berkoff
Director: Jessica Lazar
Musical Director: Carol Arnopp
Producers: Bridie Bischoff and Tom Ford for Atticist
Box Office: 020 7226 8561
Booking Link: https://kingsheadtheatre.ticketsolve.com/shows/873582764/events/128429220
Booking Until: 3 February 2018