The energetic performances of the actors live up to the energy of Steven Berkoff's angry and affecting drama. Berkoff's dialogue and physicality forces his actors to work hard, and the dedicated troupe at the Courtyard rise to the occasion. Director Fela Oke makes a virtue of propless minimalism, demanding creative initiative from the actors who deliver talented performances in mime and physical drama and engage the imagination of the audience.
Particular mention should be made of the 'Method Acting' of one of the play's young stars, Joshua Nawras, who got into a fight to help him 'get into character' and was sporting an impressive and authentic black eye on the first night.
Partly autobiographical, 'East' draws on Berkoff's own East End background to demand respect for working class culture. As an 'Elegy for the East and Its Energetic Waste' it is truly effective as a mournful requiem for wasted lives which, lived with such energy, should have been worth so much more and yielded much more joy.
These honest poor folk, Berkoff seemed to be saying back then in the 1970s, are the truly deserving, whereas privilege is wasted on the cowardly rich who haven't the brains or the balls to properly enjoy their good fortune.
With homage to Kubrick and Orton, unrepressed proletarian sexuality and violence is flung honestly in the disquieted faces of 'cultivated' audiences. Using Shakespearean language and a lyrical approach that paradoxically beautifies crudity, Berkoff humorously dramatises the aggrandisement of the crude sex and violence which enlivens restricted and wasted existences. The painful gulf between aspiration and actuality is continually re-revealed in one disappointing episode after another: the poetic and imaginative courtship speeches followed by the perfunctory bunk-up; the unrequited longings and higher yearnings thwarted by cultural constraints; the intelligent mother repressed and brutalised, reacting with courageous good humour to the accidental incest (very funny!) which is the only glimmer of light relief in her typically bleak experience of marriage.
The characters' attitudes alternate between aggressive contempt for the effete cowardices and self-deceptions of 'social superiors', and pathos as they confront the bleak reality of human existence, while laughing bravely in its face.
- Cathy Warwick
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