ANNA ISAAC on Berkoff and jerk-off in more or less equal measure. And SHOUTING.

anna isaac berkoff charlie risius claudia blunt Corpus Playroom east Eastenders London londoner mainshow rupert mercer shouting steven berkoff

Corpus Playroom, 15th-19th November, 7pm, £5-6

Directed by Arthur Kendrick


I like to think that Shakespeare and Berkoff, missing out four centuries and given a drunk night in, might have co-founded urbandictionary.com. In this jingle-jangle frenetic play, Eastend sex banter meets Homeric imagery. Look a little deeper to find astute observations on gender politics, class politics and good old-fashioned fascism in Berkoff’s painfully wrought and potent monologues.

But it isn’t a play about intellectual snobbery or revelling in the irony of working-class people describing battering down the walls of Troy with their foreskins. It is about language, frustration and the humour the two together can so readily convey. However, this production, at times, did not do credit to the funny, witty writing Berkoff provided.

Photographs by Lucy Scovell

I’ll provide an example: cunt is one of my favourite words. It just rolls off the tongue; ‘Friendly cunt, clean cunt, spare cunt, jeans and knicker stuffed full of nice juicy hairy cunt…’ and every kind of cunt are to be found in one of Mike’s speeches. Lovely stuff!

A monologue about cunts should be hilarious, or – inversely – tender, but it felt like it was just another shouted list of words at times. And shouting was a problem. A big problem. I understand that this is play about frustrated people, dissatisfied with the chronic lack of opportunities to be found in their lives, but shouting (a great deal of shouting) does not make a script any more effective. Added to the SHOUTING, accents did slip around the several districts of London (via the home counties too).

Though much was lost through overacting and repetitive physicality, at other times the beauty of the script was capitalized upon wonderfully. Claudia Blunt made the most of a scene in which, blindfolded by cinema darkness, she inadvertently gives her son a handjob – realising her error only as the lights come up. Gentle awkwardness of facial expression made for some great laughs from the audience.

Similarly, Justin Blanchard and Guy Woolf as Les and Mike brought a fantastic array of motorbikes and masculine va-va-voom to life as they channelled their energies into a moment of finessed physical theatre. Sadly, however, the pair’s chemistry needed to be more contained at times.

Nothing could have said ‘Sad Old Wanker of a Fascist’ quite as perfectly as the way Rupert Mercer shoved his own hand down his pants. When Mercer was seated, he emanated vocal control and offered wit aplenty. Again, however, direction that encouraged variation beyond a monotone shout would have made a huge improvement to his own performance, as well as that of the whole cast.

Olivia Vaughan-Fowler managed to do a pissed-off and sexy Sylv pretty well, and at times she sparkled. Her accent was not firmly rooted, but that was not the main flaw in her sustained speeches: her tone did not vary as much as it should have, sometimes leaving lines flat and losing audience engagement.

She communicated raw female anger well, firstly with the double sexual standards of men – ‘I am the cast as the queen of slut and yield’ – and then the better lot of the man-about-town in contrast to the woman who must be perved on in the accounts department. Acting stamina is tough in such a clichéd ranting-angry-woman role, and she tackled the often long and disjointed passages in East with strength.

Pianist Charlie Risius created welcome lightness and variety throughout, and could have been used more. Likewise, the background images of Oswald Mosley, Aldgate East tube and Vera Lynn could have been bolder, more aggressive: if you are going to have them, have them writ large.

In short it was a brave choice of play, a brave attempt to act a tough script; an energetic and good production that would have benefited from more refinement (AND LESS SHOUTING).