Review: East

Marcus Hallan 21 November 2008

Berkhoff gave me a lesson in how to be savagely vulgar. And I liked it. This highly stylised DDS production, performed within the enclosing and forcefully intimate space of the English faculty basement, hammered and humped across its themes of violence, sex and comic passions in equal measure. From cinematic hand-jobs to discussions of ‘snatch bandits’, this piece set in the East End of London succeeded in both shocking and entertaining the audience.

The numerous extensive monologues were delivered with visceral flair, matched in turn by the impressive and cutting physicality with which the actors tackled their numerous set pieces.

Of particular note was the family fairground visit, wherein the cast made great use of facial expression and physical theatre, vigorously enacting both bumper cars and a shoddy haunted-house ride.

The motorcycle sequences were memorable, if only for the black tie whistling through the wind. Played as a five-hander, the piece ran amok with a grotesque and comical exaggeration only enhanced by the fact that the features of the cast were plastered with Brechtian face-paint.

Particularly impressive was the long-suffering mother figure, played to successful and manically- depressive depths by Nicola Marsh. Trapped and unappreciated in a misery of a marriage she finds herself turning to the cinema for her sexual kicks with unexpected results.

The brashly xenophobic father of the piece, played by Nick Waters, eulogises a fascist yesteryear where immigrants could be beaten at will. His conceited foolishness and misplaced anger was put across convincingly and merits significant praise.

The rock ‘n rolla characters of Les (Laurie Coldwell) and Mike (Nick Ricketts) provided a dynamic duo of charm and charisma. Their bravado and accomplished cocksure banter was of the highest degree, if a little too heavily influenced by the cartoonish repartee pioneered by Guy Ritchie. Cockney is one thing. Cockney gangster is quite another.

The character of Sylv, meanwhile, was both touching and pitiable. She is the only character that seeks and obtains a chance to escape this tragically violent, sex-driven and empty world before

it is too late.

It is thanks to Jo Starte’s straining and feisty, yet sensitive portrayal that we genuinely hope she manages to do so. The piece inevitably divides opinion, but I thought it carried off ‘venerably vulgar’ with great aplomb.

Marcus Hallan