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“Riotous and rollicking”

The East End is not what it once was. Outside the King’s Head Theatre – where Steven Berkoff’s drama East made its London debut in 1975 – is a street of burrito bars, Itsus and wifi-enabled park benches. In Atticist’s revival of the play, the city is depicted as a steamy, seamy jungle of sex, violence, poverty, and existential despair.

Berkoff’s play remains a remarkable work, an unapologetically punchy portrait of a bygone age. It savagely evokes a world of bloody, booze-fuelled fights round the back of the Lyceum, of shitty day trips to Southend, and of sly gropes on the number 38 bus between Mount Pleasant and Balls Pond Road. Of misogyny, racism, and ugly, uninspiring futures.

And Berkoff being Berkoff, it’s all realised in a riotous, rollicking whirlwind of hybridised Shakespeare and slang. Cusses and classical references gleefully rub shoulders throughout.

Jessica Lazar’s inventive production is no less remarkable. Her five-strong cast wriggle and writhe, spit and snarl their way across the intimate, sparse space like grotesque marionettes, all to a cheery Cockney piano accompaniment. James Craze and Jack Condon are particularly obscene, but kudos too to Boadicea Ricketts and Debra Penny, who eke out slivers of sympathy from their relentlessly objectified female characters.

Perhaps what is most significant, however, is how East emerges in Brexit Britain. It’s still a visceral vision of a festering society, but in its depiction of a community forced from deprivation to despair, it actually seems remarkably prescient. Lest we forget, just a minute’s walk away, the 38 bus still wends its way down the Essex Road.

Steven Berkoff: ‘New plays don’t have the audacity and daring that they used to’

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Production Details
Production nameEast
VenueKing's Head Theatre
StartsJanuary 9, 2018
EndsFebruary 3, 2018
Running time2hrs
AuthorSteven Berkoff
DirectorJessica Lazar
Musical directorCarol Arnopp
Set designerAnna Lewis
Lighting designerDavid Doyle
Sound designerOdinn Orn Hilmarsson
Casting directorStephen Moore
CastBoadicea Ricketts, Debra Penny, Jack Condon, James Craze, Russell Barnett
Production managerDavid Doyle
Stage managerTimothy Kelly
VerdictAn inventive, invective-filled revival of Steven Berkoff's 1975 classic
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Fergus Morgan

Fergus Morgan

Fergus Morgan

Fergus Morgan

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