King’s Head Theatre, London – until 3 February 2018
Steven Berkoff’s verse play is brought to life with plenty of grit and energy from all of the cast.
Even if you didn’t know who wrote this extraordinary play, it is easily recognised as a Steven Berkoff work with its poetic language as well as the chopping and changing of scenes that really makes the head spin. In this new production, both director Jessica Lazar and the cast make the most of every line and inject it with as much energy and emotion as possible to create a compelling and surprisingly humorous show that grabs the attention.
Although it is difficult to get a sense of what the plot is really about (and can be seen to be open to interpretation), the impression that the audience gets is five different characters discovering what their lives have been about up until now. Whether it is reminiscing about what has happened in the past (mum and dad) or wondering what is yet to come, everything about this play is driven by emotion.
Lazar’s production has plenty of swagger about it, while at the same time allows brief glimpses of the character’s vulnerable side (particularly the mum and two boys) before putting back on the mask of anger of disappointment back onto the characters – as seen when mum reflects on her life so far that seems particularly poignant. But it is also a production that is extremely physical for all of the cast whether it is dancing or fighting or in one scene acting as motorbikes (which is particularly effective), that is very creative and engaging to watch.
However, because the script is so sharp and the scenes are constantly changing so fast it is difficult to keep up with what is happening – you don’t really feel as though you get to know the characters at all, always feeling as though there is that distance between the audience and the cast – despite the intimacy of the space. It is difficult to engage with the characters and empathise with them.
This isn’t helped by the constant use of certain language which can mean that what the characters are saying loses meaning slightly and it can become slightly repetitive. This is particularly seen during Mike’s c*** speech towards the end of the show – which feels too aggressive and unnecessary – but it shows that this is a play which is intended to shock and the production embraces this.
However, the cast all deliver strong and fierce performances that keep the audience engaged throughout. From Boadicea Ricketts’ feisty and empowered performance as Sylv to Russell Barnett’s thoroughly despicable dad whose aggressiveness is genuinely unpleasant but somehow mesmerising to watch – all of the cast deliver fully rounded performances that capture the energy and spirit of the production.
Overall, it is a frank and brutal production to watch but thanks to the performances of the cast it is enthralling to watch unfold, leaving the audience mesmerised and shocked in equal measures.
East continues to play at the King’s Head Theatre until the 3rd February. For more information visit: http://www.kingsheadtheatre.com/