Brighton Fringe 2016
Alan Perrin and Snowdrop team up with 88 London Road to bring perhaps the most exciting revival of East seen since the 25th anniversary tour in 2000, faultlessly filthy and in ensemble singing, breaking new ground
Snowdrop Productions and 88 London Road have brought this sizzling revival of Berkoff’s 1975 first play East to the 88 venue, which runs to May 21st. It’s their Festival play and deserves even now to be in the forefront of best revival in the Festival.
What strikes first is musicality mixed with physical theatre, carefully un-harmonized, fragmentary renderings of music hall and ’Daisy, Daisy’ later harmonised truly to a suite of music-hall throughout. Swoops and snaps, the kinetic skirl of Berkoff’s language strikes as musically as melodies sharped against the grate of thwarted East London lives.
Mike (Karl Kenney-Williams, also co-producer and Berkoff-alike) and Les (Jake Farretti) strut as two razor-yobs without a cause except hunting c-words, and their joint fixation Sylv. It’s key that we ‘know’ their names as the language of thwart and revolt percusses their tongues mixing demotic poetry with Shakespeare – they’ve never stopped quoting him now, as ‘let us sit down and talk of the sad death of kiddies’ reminds us of infant mortality in the East End.
By now a scorch of ballets underscore the glottal violence of Mike and Les, from how they bonded nearly killing each other over Sylv (Tegen Hitchens) who herself wants to leap as one of the boys whist raucously aware of her own sexuality and its effect.
Their father Matt Devitt all gravelly reminiscence thought he had a cause, but after dropping incongruous references to Schoenberg’s Moses and Aaron on Radio 3 he’s recalling falsely how he and other Mosleyites ‘stood up for England’ in 1938 and ‘kicked the Kikes’. Berkoff’s uncle opposed them in that riot and Berkoff knows the real year (1936), that Mosley’s Blackshirts were trounced forever, not least due to Berkoff’s uncle. So this retrieval of a family is an act of generosity to temporal foes, to those too who unlike Berkoff didn’t make it out. Les for instance at an outfitter incongruously also recalls a wistful intellectual outsider’s backstory: ‘I was lonely… basically I think, like one is born that way, I always felt lonely as if it was something like a habit…’
All’s physically blocked, indeed choreographed into Berkoff-style mannerisms, from lighting flickering over family fairground reminiscence – a razz of activities mimed – to the famous motorcycle scene. Here Les is ridden vroomfed as a Vincent (with hyperbolic ccs) by Mike, even obliging with his head parked at an angle. Flocked-to fights and even Mike’s and Sylv’s ritualized sex leaving both parties comically sore counterpoints the liquid cruise of linguistic oil blackening polite verse-drama.
Supremely, it’s the ritual tea of toast, marg and baked beans once spilled symbolically over the table that frames one highlight in this physical theatre explosion: each movement thrubs a Berkoffian analogue, the choric yammer-yammer as they plunge into margarine, collapsing toasts in half and wolfing is superbly blocked.
Sylv vaunts with a sex-drive-licence and glued-on (as it were) testosterone. She torments Les and supremely Mike. ‘So thou, bitch, seeks to distress my Johnny tool with psychological war, humiliating it into surrender shrink.’ Later, she’s the one who wants more, wisping aspiration Les only sees in a beautiful woman flashing her thighs, whom he’s too timid to chase.
Dad spews helpless machismo, Mum (Lloyd Ryan-Tomas) retreats into an anomie of lost sexual and cultural drives. Berkoff grafts his own memory of how post-war culture energized writers like himself, Pinter, Wesker, Osborne, Orton, then turns it on its Trilbyed head, gifting it to people his uncle fought, who’d not aspire to it. Mum withdraws to reverie she’s rehearsing Tippett’s Third Piano Sonata, a thorny palindrome freshly premiered, or meeting Callas, preferring Bernstein but settling for Visconti to direct Otello. Meanwhile Dad’s flatulent buttocks provide ‘the harmony of the spheres’.
Alan Perrin directs and sound-designs this phenomenally taut work; Denise Evans’ movement and Strat Mastoris’ lighting spotlight their fields to a pin.
If Kennedy-Williams and Ferretti have a touch more to do than the others, Ryan-Thomas a tad less, it’s a generous ensemble faultlessly delivered, and difficult to pick out standouts: invidious in this outstanding production which expands what we know of the singing-repertoire and muscle-taut boundaries of East.