Steven Berkoff’s irresistible EAST makes an inevitable return to the Festival Fringe, this time in a vibrant and energetic production by HiveMCR. It’s now forty-four years since it premiered at the Traverse theatre, but it still packs a punch in terms of its content and theatrical style and this group of young actors for Manchester University has delivered every blow with precision.
A visceral, head-banging hour of gritty exuberance.
Berkoff adopted Shakesperian verse-form for his play and it resonates through the lines. He applied it not to a gentrified middle England but instead to a brutal treatment of London life in the 70s. It creates an exhilarating sense of contradiction and irony. Rebellious youths usurp the comfortable, if dreary existence of their parents, sticking two fingers up at the Establishment and forging their own way of living in defiance of accepted norms. It was groundbreaking then and it’s portrayal rings equally true today.
The cast has clearly done its homework on Berkoff. The principles of total theatre are applied in detail, combining the physical interpretation of the text to maximum effect. There is no hesitation in rattling off the lines and the movement is tightly aligned and seamlessly choreographed with the rhythm of the verse, heightening the impact of both. The minimalist set comprises a table and some box seats, the former used for its traditional purpose in the family scenes but otherwise all items serve to creating levels which are deployed to configure the actors in an array of tableaux and towering manoeuvres that fill the stage but draw attention to the script. Chief among these are the fairground scenes, with the roller-coaster and the carousel with horses, and the knuckle-clenching motorbike ride.
Abby Moss, Tom Bass, Joe Llewellyn, Gary Gannon and Rory Greenwood form the ensemble that has clearly worked for hours to create this detailed masterpiece directed by Rosie Thackeray assisted by Kate Ireland and produced by Katie Rooney and Hugh Summers. It would be easy to go on at length about how they create memorable figures but the message would be the same throughout. They’ve respectively distilled the essence of Sylv, Les, Mike, Mum and Dad and poured it out in abundance.
It’s a visceral, head-banging hour of gritty exuberance that leaves a sense of triumph in the air and the hope that they will be back next year with more.