“Get thee to a nunnery — in other words, piss off!”
It’s no secret that Shakespeare gets smutty. Pleasant fountains, thinking about nothing, and Cs, Us, ‘nd Ts — the Bard clearly had something on the mind. Nor it is an unknown that Cockney slang has more than a pinch of poetry to it — the clue’s in the rhyme. After all, it’s only a couple of stops on the tube from Mile End to the Globe.
Steven Berkoff’s EAST hurls Shakespearean dialogue and cockney slang together in a raucous production staged by the EUSC as their first ‘Shakesperimental’ show. Dripping in humours and humour, the play, directed by Myles Westman and Sofie Qwarnström, paints a bold and brazen portrait of working class life in the East End of 1960s London.
At the more lusty than loving heart of EAST is its language. Berkoff’s script is a challenge for cast and audience alike, boasting a complexity of speech and controversy of content that is not for the faint at heart. The ambitious interweaving of slang and stanza is triumphantly executed by the entire cast with unadulterated commitment and poise of command. With no driving narrative, the audience accompanies Les (Tom Goddard) and Mike (Fergus Head) on their daily quest for booze, birds and brawls, bearing witness to the trials and tribulations of the seditiously sexy Sylv (Scarlett Stitt) and the discontented domesticity between Dad (Charlie O’Brien) and Mum (Ishbel McLachlan). The chemistry between Goddard and Head is ecstatically palpable as they strut and swear across the stage with choreographed synergy, cracking laughs and skulls with crude charm and greasy grace. The motorcycle scene in which Mike straddles Less as the growling motor is iconic in its memorability — an achievement of staging and performance.
Stitt’s performance as Sylv injects some much needed sensitivity into the play with her moving “I’d like to be a fella” monologue, executed with the grounded poignancy that appears a staple of Stitt’s repertoire. She is not without her share of salacious stage-time, however — one can only hope that no mothers were in the audience. The chip-munching domestic scenes offer respite from the raunchiness. Whilst Dad’s hateful rantings attempt to draw the play into a wider social context, faithfully performed by O’Brien, his lines unfortunately appear somewhat generic compared the compelling character-driven writing of Les and Mike. McLachlan’s performance as the mother is a highlight, with her own racy anecdotes garnering some of the most howling laughs.
EAST is a play of personality, not politics, opting for character over critique. The EUSC’s riotous production embraces this, creating a larger than life gaggle of hate-to-love-‘em geezers and birds who storm the Wee Red stage to impose upon the audience a dirtily delighting and delightfully dirty success of a production.
Wee Red Bar
Image: Domi Ucar