As previously tipped (See The Goss, 4 Aug 2008), Steven Berkoff’s new stage adaptation of the Oscar-winning 1954 movie classic On the Waterfront is transferring to the West End. Following its try-outs last year at Nottingham Playhouse and the Edinburgh Fringe, the Award-nominated production opens on 12 February 2009 (previews from 28 January) at the Theatre Royal Haymarket where Berkoff himself will join the cast.

In On the Waterfront, New Jersey ex-prize fighter turned longshoreman Terry Malloy comes up against his corrupt, Mob-ruled union bosses. After being implicated in a murder, Terry finds support in the form of a streetwise priest and the love of the dead man’s sister.

The part of Malloy, the man who “coulda been a contender”, was immortalised by Marlon Brando in Elia Kazan’s film, which also starred Karl Malden, Eva Marie Saint and Rod Steiger. The stage role was previously mooted for such Hollywood names as Matt Dillon, Mark Ruffalo and Guy Pearce (See The Goss, 5 Sep 2007), but went in the end to the relatively unknown British actor Simon Merrells, whose credits include The Life of Galileo and Sing Yer Heart Out for the Lads at the National and London’s Burning on TV.

Merrells - who original author Budd Schulberg described in Edinburgh as “excellent” in the part because “he’s not trying to imitate Brando” (See The Goss, 4 Aug 2008) – will reprise his performance in the West End, alongside new cast member Berkoff, playing mobster Johnny Friendly.

The new stage play of On the Waterfront is conceived and directed by Berkoff and co-written by the original screenplay’s author Budd Schulberg with Stan Silverman. An earlier stage incarnation of the piece lasted just one week at Broadway’s Brooks Atkinson Theatre in 1995. Berkoff’s version premiered in April 2008 at Nottingham Playhouse and also played at the Edinburgh Fringe last August. For those runs, it’s been nominated for Best Regional Production in this year’s Theatregoers’ Choice Awards (click here to vote now!).

Steven Berkoff\'s often combative career in entertainment began in repertory theatre, before he formed his own production unit. Plays which he\'s written, directed and often appeared in include Messiah and Shakespeare’s Villains, both seen in the West End in recent years, East, West, Salome, Decadence, Kvetch, The Secret Love Life of Ophelia, Requiem for Ground Zero and Sit and Shiver, in which he last appeared on the London stage at Hackney Empire in 2007.

Currently at the Haymarket, Treasure Island starring Keith Allen finishes its truncated run this Saturday, 10 January (See News, 12 Dec 2008). On the Waterfront, which is booking until 25 April 2009, is followed by the highly anticipated revival of Samuel Beckett’s 1955 classic Waiting for Godot starring Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart (See News, 31 Oct 2008). Directed by Sean Mathias, it will run from 6 May to 28 June 2009 (previews from 30 April) as the first production in the Theatre Royal Haymarket Company’s second season of in-house productions.

- by Terri Paddock