East by Steven Berkoff
King’s Head Theatre
Julia Pascal

 

The play’s full title is East.  Elegy for the East End and its energetic waste.  It is a vulgar, visceral evocation of London’s East End working class, white culture.  This is a wicked piece of theatre in all senses of that word.

Berkoff, who was born and brought up in the East End, revels in the grotesqueries of racist, white, working class life.  The joy in the writing, and in Jessica Lazar’s brilliant production, is the satirical evocation of that community in the period from the 1950s to the 1970s.  Berkoff’s 1975 text is a mosaic of outrageous sketches that evidence Brecht and Lecoq’s influence.  This is a European theatrical heritage that reveals aspects of the English culture that both disgusts and compels.

It could be argued that this play is a hopeless vision of white, working class sexism and racism but Berkoff heightens his characters by giving them dialogue that is Shakespearean.  In doing so he raises this world to another level.  There are brief philosophical moments of reflection that are existential.  These are surprising and thrilling.

Does the work date?  I think not.  Rather it evokes a relentless macho culture that has calcified since 1975.  Berkoff reveals both the compulsion and repulsion that flows between women and men.  There is no inhibition in the writing, or the performances, which are bawdy and fascinating.

Director Lazar has trained a daring ensemble.  James Craze and Boudicea Ricketts are outstanding.  Their bravura performances are strongly supported by Jack Condon, Debra Penny and Russell Barnett.  Carol Arnopp’s musical arrangement and piano accompaniment adds a subtle layer of irony and Yvan Karlsson’s movement direction is breath-taking.  I particularly liked how he realised the metaphor of the motorbike as the rampant male body.

At the end of this two hour theatrical firework display the question must be asked as to whether Berkoff caricatures the East End working class or celebrates it?  Perhaps both.

Julia Pascal © 2018.

(c) Alex Brenner, no use without credit, Atticist - East @ King's Head (_DSC5010).jpg
(c) Alex Brenner, no use without credit, Atticist - East @ King's Head (_DSC5102).jpg
(c) Alex Brenner, no use without credit, Atticist - East @ King's Head (_DSC5369).jpg
(c) Alex Brenner, no use without credit, Atticist - East @ King's Head (_DSC5411).jpg
(c) Alex Brenner, no use without credit, Atticist - East @ King's Head (_DSC3994).jpg
(c) Alex Brenner, no use without credit, Atticist - East @ Kings Head (_DSC2123).jpg
(c) Alex Brenner, no use without credit, Atticist - East @ King's Head (_DSC4025).jpg
(c) Alex Brenner, no use without credit, Atticist - East @ King's Head (_DSC4085).jpg
(c) Alex Brenner, no use without credit, Atticist - East @ King's Head (_DSC4089).jpg
(c) Alex Brenner, no use without credit, Atticist - East @ King's Head (_DSC4614).jpg