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Victory at the Dirt Palace

By • West End
WOS Rating:
Steven Berkoff watch your back. A 23-year-old from California is showing a new generation how it's done in this dizzying new drama, which - in true Berkoff style - is politically charged, highly stylised, indebted to Shakespeare and packed with sex, violence and exquisitely vivid, occasionally foul, language.

A loose reworking of King Lear, Victory at the Dirt Palace is written and directed by the multi-talented Adriano Shaplin (who also features in the four-strong cast) and set in the modern world of American broadcast journalism, where 24-hour news has become a form of entertainment - eroticised, improvised and trivialised for the accelerated consumption of the faceless, and seemingly brainless, masses.

James Mann (Paul Schnabel) is a veteran anchorman who, after 30 years of reporting on war and tragedy, is ready to retire and hand his media kingdom over to his daughter K (Stephanie Viola), an up and coming newsreader for a rival station. But K is a troubled and troublesome heir, and in any case, her squabbling pseudo-sisters - editorial assistants 1 and 2 (Shaplin and Drew Friedman), who pander to the Manns' egos and fuel their dementia - have other succession plans in mind.

The core Lear elements are all there, with some inventive twists, as the ratings war escalates following a September 11th-type watershed and the betrayals mount. Even the bard's epic storm gets a look-in both metaphorically and, with James' demotion to weatherman, meteorologically, too.

Shaplin and his appropriately named Riot Group all turn in robust physical performances, well deserving their award nomination for Best Ensemble at the Edinburgh Fringe, where the production received its UK premiere in 2002. As the sole female in the group, and draped in a blood-red blouse, Viola has a slight edge in grabbing the audience's attention. Shaplin's sharp dialogue is that bit more arresting when spoken by a woman, and Viola possesses incredible presence, particularly strong during K's stinging denunciations of her father.

The final shock of the evening comes at the curtain call when, the cast standing side by side for the first time, you see by how much the men tower over their Viola. The actress' diminutive stature belies her astounding on-stage power.

- Terri Paddock


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