SHAKESPEARE’S VILLAINS: Steven Berkoff, touring


by Steven Berkoff.

Nottingham Playhouse 7 February 2012 (further UK dates may be scheduled).
Runs 1hr 30min One interval.
Review: Alan Geary: 7 February at N ottingham Playhouse2012.

Taken as a whole, disappointing.
At least three puzzling questions spring to mind about Shakespeare’s Villains, the touring one-hander from Steven Berkoff.

First, where’s the enfant terrible, the angry young radical? It’s not just that Berkoff is now a portly middle-aged man – the seventies are, they say, the new fifties – albeit one fond of the big sweeping physical gesture. He doesn’t seem bitter, for instance, and there’s no evidence of his furious pro-Zionism, even when he’s talking about Shylock.

And why the title? Much of the time Berkoff’s not talking about villains or even about other Shakespeare characters. And when he does stick with characters they aren’t necessarily bad boys. A lot of people wouldn’t regard Shylock as a true villain, or Oberon, or Hamlet.

Most mysteriously, why has the show been so widely acclaimed and won so many awards? It’s good, but not that good. It’s a bit austere and demanding given the thin payback in terms of new insights or enrichment.

Having said all that, there’s a lot to admire. Berkoff’s interesting and gossipy when he goes into something on Johnny Gielgud or Larry Olivier, but there’s not enough of it. He even touches on the Clinton-Lewinsky affair – when he’s talking about Coriolanus.

In fact sex seems to come into it quite a lot. It makes you think when he claims that your typical Shakespearean villain invariably alternates between sex and violence.

He’s funny on Hamlet, when it comes to the appearance of the Ghost on the battlements, and when the Prince himself kills Polonius – it’s for this murder that Berkoff includes him as a villain. Oberon makes it onto the villain list because of his pioneering work in poisons.

It’s an alarming bit – for some – when Berkoff claims that “Nobody could love a critic”. There’s at least one person, and a lot of others surely, hoping that he’s wrong.

But despite the elements of interest the show, taken as a whole, is disappointing.

No production details available.

2012-02-15 13:37:20

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