FringeReview UK 2017
Alan Perrin and Snowdrop team up with Royal Brighton, Portfolio Magazine, and Baobab to reprise perhaps the most exciting revival of East seen since the 25th anniversary tour in 2000, faultlessly filthy and in ensemble singing, breaking new ground. Ends November 9th.
Snowdrop Productions have returned with this sizzling revival of Berkoff’s 1975 first play East to Brighton’s Theatre Royal, having premiered it at the defunct 88 London Road theatre in April 2016, It runs just on the 8th and 9th November. It’s their Festival play and deserves even now to return in the forefront of best revival in the next Festival.
It’s immensely encouraging that Theatre Royal Brighton as well as other supporters (Portfolio, Baobab) are providing such an opportunity for Snowdrop to showcase their terrific ensemble again after last year’s run. But in just eighteen months everything pitches us to the truth of Berkoff’s furious dispossessed in a Brexit Britain whose seeds are spewed out like sperm on the back seat of a cinema.
Alan Perrin directs and sound-designs this phenomenally taut work; Denise Evans’ movement and Mark Dimmock’s’ lighting spotlight their fields to a pin – ideally shown blue-grey against the bare walls of the Theatre Royal.
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. There’s a deliberate out-of-tune edge to their singing on occasions to whet this. And bar a few exchanges, we’re beset by ritual monologues throughout that somehow seem inclusive, characteristic of Berkoff from this first play.
Mike (Karl Kennedy-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. The second part re-runs a dining scene and this trope: ‘now you know our names’. They’ve just voted too, and with every ferocious reason.
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. Yet in the second dining sequence the father swears he knows some Yiddish, which he only manages off-guard (and he likes Isaac’s fish). 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 twice spilled symbolically over the table that frames one highlight (enacted twice) 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 on the 38 route (but Farringdon?), 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, singing Brünhlde, or meeting Callas, preferring Bernstein but settling for Visconti to direct Otello. Meanwhile Dad’s flatulent buttocks provide ‘the harmony of the spheres’.
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. Do catch this.