Book – East
Author – Steven Berkoff
Year – 1977
Pages – 41
Genre – Play
Characters – 5 (2f, 3m – one f usually played by a man)
When I was at University I did a production of Metamorphosis that we took to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. To this day, it is one of my absolute favourites and I have taught the play in several different guises over the years. Having enjoyed this one very much, I bought the first collection of Berkoff’s plays in Hay-On-Wye several years ago, and this seemed a time to break into it.
East is an earlier play of Berkoff’s, and generally pretty well regarded. It follows five characters who double up as chorus: Mum, Dad, Mike, Les and Sylv. To say it has a plot as such would be an exaggeration, but the through-line follows three younger people as they get in trouble and try not to end up like their parents.
The play almost runs like a series of sketches with recurring characters. And it is filth. The whole play is about violence and sex, and is not the kind of thing that you would want to take your gran to go and see. It is all told in a sort of faux Shakespearean style, and leaves plenty to the director in terms of how to set and stage the piece.
This is a quality of Berkoff’s that I quite enjoy generally, but unfortunately it really doesn’t translate well into a play to be read. There is a lyricism to the writing that is quite beautiful, even amongst the swearing and glorification of violence, but I couldn’t help but feel it loses a lot by not being read aloud. Of course, plays are written to be performed, not read, but it lost an awful lot through this.
I am afraid that the overall impression that I was left with was one of disappointment. I didn’t enjoy it, and cannot say it left me wanting to see it. However, five more plays in this compilation, so let’s hope that there are better to come.