Steven Berkoff’s East will be performed for the first time at Bedlam Theatre.
Forty years after it’s world premiere at the Traverse Theatre for the 1975 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Steven Berkoff’s East will be performed for the first time at Bedlam Theatre. Even today, in an age defined by our easy access to extreme content from hardcore pornography to ISIS beheadings, the play still manages to be as shocking as it ever was.
Sex and Violence is the order of the day in East and the characters gleefully display all those qualities that we don’t talk about when we find them in ourselves. Berkoff confronts us with all the uglier parts of our human nature. In his Author’s Note he remarks how one critic described the play as ‘filthy beyond the call of duty’. And yet, under the skin, the writing is so sensitive that what shocks most is how endearing these abrasive characters are.
Berkoff’s practice, known as ‘Total Theatre’, is chiefly concerned with language and movement, giving his work the characteristically raw, stripped back feeling he is known for. The play is written in verse, it has many classical references and uses rich mock-Shakespearean language. Berkoff writes that by doing this he took ‘[the play]’ further into ritual and yet defined it with a distinct edge’. He uses these stylistic flourishes to elevate his characters from the dirt to the position of the gods and demigods, the kings and generals of our theatrical tradition. The play is a mythology for the East End, just as Mike and Les see themselves as the Greek heroes of their corner of the world, so are they presented to us.