Berkoff's East is one of the most powerful examinations of the white working class culture in England. Set in London's East End, the characters are heavily stereotyped and yet they move us, make us laugh, help us understand the sterile nature of their lives and pose the question: why do we as a nation continue to see their talents wasted?
The opening duologue sets the scene of a violent culture and the value of a person is determined by the extent of their injuries.
First performed at Edinburgh Fringe in 1975, this revived Snowdrop Production has already achieved acclaim at the Brighton Fringe in 2016 and this current run clearly shows why. As a Londoner, the opening overture of some of the most famous and memorable cockney songs is wonderfully familiar and sets the scene by introducing a sense of nostalgia, which is a key theme in the play. The father, played by Matt Devitt, brilliantly commands dinnertime with his stories of marching with Oswald Mosley conjuring up some of the worst examples of racism in this country. The combination of his nostalgic voice, the family miming the buttering of white bread and eating beans is both hilarious and horrific at the same time.
The opening duologue sets the scene of a violent culture where strong alliances are formed and the value of a person is determined by the extent of their injuries. Dynamically performed by Karl Kennedy-Williams as Mike and Jake Ferretti as Les who use Berkoff's in-yer-face style to its full extent. The physicality and gestures of these two actors enable the audience to understand the Shakespearean verse perfectly and, alongside powerful vocal expression of their own natural slang, every moment and thought in their lives is given significance. Through the technique of Direct Address they reach out, make the audience laugh, see clearly into their world and empathise with their misfortunes.
The monologues are stunning expositions of yearning without hope, seeing the reality ahead with the full knowledge of their own destiny. Sylv, performed by Tegen Hitchens, is superb especially in her wanting to be a man monologue. She squirms with dislike for the male species, yet would still prefer to be one and we understand fully and identify with her struggle to be something other than a sex object. The other female character, 'mum', is played by a man (Lloyd Ryan-Thomas). This choice provides much humour and sadness in equal measures. She epitomises the downtrodden working class woman who once dreamed, but never had an opportunity come her way. The actor provides great comedy and the cinema moment is truly hilarious. The commentary on a marriage is both funny and tragic and provides some of the more subtle moments of the play.
The ensemble work is a joy to watch. With perfectly timed gestures, exaggerated and often contorted and grotesque facial expressions the family at the fairground clearly shows with great precision the volatile relationships. Each character is clearly experiencing the pains and pleasures of family life.
This company successfully interprets and performs this work of great importance making it a comic and visual delight and at the same time providing the depth of understanding of our class ridden and racist society which doesn't appear to be changing any time soon