Writer: Steven Berkoff
Director: Alan Perrin
Reviewer: Paul Couch
Imagine, if you will, an unlikely turn of events: William Shakespeare meets Dylan Thomas and they pop into The Queen Vic in Albert Square, where they’re both promptly duffed over by Steven Berkoff and some ‘slaaag’ called Sylv- “‘Ere, leave it, Steve – they’re not worth it!”
Okay, it’s an absurd scenario but that’s exactly what you get with Berkoff’s East,a blistering and raw snapshot of the lives of a working-class family in Hackney, delivered in a flawless hybrid patois of Early Modern English and Cockney rhyming slang. As expected from the King of LesEnfants Terrible, the language is uncompromising but always contextually justified.
The cast of five is sublime: Karl Kennedy-Williams’ Mike – all Tottenham ‘bovver boi’ with an overblown opinion of his own genitalia – is a thing to behold; all swaggering sinew and preening posture as he spouts quite elegant verbal diarrhoea in order to chat up anything with a pulse and a pair of treacherous Primark knickers.
It’s quite obvious which cloth Mike’s cut from, though – Dad (Matt Devitt) is a fascist yob of the First Order, delivered straight from the 1950s. There’s nothing casual about his racism – it’s deliberate and heartfelt. He’s a vicious, growling brute who loves his country, his manor, and his family… in that order. He’s a Rottweiler whose role model was British fascist Oswald Mosley – do we need to say more?
Lloyd Ryan-Thomas is a strangely coquettish Mum, cross-gartered and caricatured but this is no disposable panto dame. Mum is clearly the power behind the throne in their council flat and can spit out some bile of her own when the need takes her. Ryan-Thomas doesn’t get to say much on his own but is an ever-present spinal column in this dysfunctional, and yet oddly functional, family.
Sylv’s true home is probably Viz magazine. There’s acid on her tongue and a ripcord on her leather miniskirt. Fortunately for our sensibilities, it’s never made clear whether she’s a member of the family or just a generic slut. Tegen Hitchens is an awe-inspiring force of nature, one-minute crude sexuality, the next, well… a bucket of vulgar lust. A sex scene between her and the phallically gifted Mike is hilarious and in no small way uncomfortable for the audience too.
Rounding up the on-stage cast is Jake Ferretti as Les. At first, Les is the runt of the litter but comes into his own with a poignant and snarling monologue that illustrates perfectly his insecurity, unhappiness and perhaps no small amount of poor mental health.
Director Alan Perrin, abetted by Berkoff, has created a rare thing for Brighton Fringe – a flawless show that shocks, titillates, and provides an awkward glimpse into an underclass that still exists today in Great Britain.
Runs until 21 May2016 | Image: Contributed