East, 4****, London

by Steven Berkoff

The King’s Head Theatre, 115 Upper Street, Islington London N1 1QN to 3 February 2018.
Tues-Sat 7pm. Mat Sun 3pm.
Runs 2hr 15 mins One interval.
TICKETS: 0207 226 8561.
Review: William Russell 14 January

Berkoff on Rabelaisian form

This verse play by Steven Berkoff first staged in 1975 and revived regularly is a hymn to the East End in which he grew up. The world he is writing about has changed, but enough remains the same for the play still to work as more than just a nostalgic look at how things used to be. The language is a marvellous mixture of Shakespearian speech and that of the mean streets of the East End and, as well as being very funny, and occasionally downright filthy the effect is always spellbinding.
Director Jessica Lazar has assembled a first rate cast who seize their chances with relish perfectly aware their parts are gifts for any actor. She has resisted any attempt to update it – this is a world without mobile phones or social media and women’s place is in the bedroom or the kitchen or being pulled at the dance hall. To have done so would have been a mistake as while it is an elegy to a world that has been left behind enough survives for it to be perfectly recognisable today.

Mike (James Craze) and Les (Jack Condon) are wide boys, good with a razor, quick with their fists up the alley, not averse to theft and forever pursuing birds. Sylv (Boadicea Ricketts) is the obligatory bird they want to get, but no pushover for lads like these. Mum (Debra Penny) is a run down world weary soul in a stale marriage to Dad (Russell Barnett) in which bed is time for farts, stale breath and sex so tedious she doesn’t know it is happening.

East was, and still is, a terrific play and this production does it full justice. First seen at the Traverse in Edinburgh with Berkoff playing Mike it then moved to the King’s Head where it enjoyed great success, with productions at Greenwich and the Regent Theatre the following year. Lazar’s production – one of the best things to have landed on the King’s Head stages in ages – also sets it to music with Carol Arnopp at the piano playing the tunes that in 1975 were the ones the people then remembered sentimentally and which still resonate today.

Mike: James Craze.
Les: Jack Condon.
Sylv: Boadicea Ricketts.
Mum: Debra Penny.
Dad: Russell Barnett.

Director: Jessica Lazar.
Lighting Designer: David Doyle.
Set & Costume Designer: Anna Lewis.
Musical Director: Carol Arnopp.
Movement Director: Yvan Karlsson.

2018-01-15 09:49:40

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