Arts & Edinburgh: My nights with Steve

Linda Marlowe tells of her onstage love affair with playwright Steven Berkoff.

It comes as a shock to discover, as Linda Marlowe takes her final question, that my tape-recorder has been accidentally switched to "voice- operated recording", a mode which makes the spools pause at every cadence. Typically, the result is to shred every sentence. If this were any other actress, the only option would be to cast oneself in front of the next available Edinburgh tour bus - but with Marlowe, nothing is lost.

Her pauses for breath have been so brief, her speech so unfaltering that not a syllable has been omitted. Linda Marlowe could yak for Britain. You can see why she has spent a good deal of the past 25 years yakking for Berkoff. Few other living playwrights demand so much in vocal strength and stamina. Marlowe has tackled many of his major female roles, most famously the upper/lower-class double-act of Helen/Sybil in Decadence. She has also twice played mother to him in his best-known stabs at Shakespeare - Hamlet and Coriolanus.

Now she's premiering a solo show - directed by her friend Josie Lawrence - called Berkoff's Women, the edited highlights of this species' unorthodox outpourings. For most people's lungs it would be the equivalent of a daily decathlon. She can do it, then calmly roll her own. You could just admire the physical prowess of this fiftysomething but that would be to overlook her principal achievement. Marlowe doesn't just spew Berkoff's words with gusto, she argues the case for them in her warm, rich smoker's voice.

Whether she's describing giving head to a waiter (Decadence), launching a vitriolic attack on the male sex (Greek), or evoking the solitude of a woman who wants "suffocating in the arms of a man"(From My Point of View), her performance not only shows you how the parts should be done, but suggests why they might have been written. For those who view Berkoff's lewd demotic and archaic lyricism as bombast, the show is a call for reassessment.

It might also act as a corrective to the widespread perception of him as a misogynist (not helped by his rebuff of women journalists' barbs - "It seems that merely being female and having inherited the agonies of history gives every little sourpuss a chance to exercise a taste for sadism," he said).

Some found his performance insulting two years ago at the Festival in Massage - in which he strutted around in drag as a housewife-cum-prostitute. ("You're not remotely like a woman," Lynn Barber told him at the time.)

Marlowe says: "I hope people will see what an amazing writer he is for women. These are strong characters, with a huge emotional range. If there is a thread running through, it is that his women are not afraid to be raw, sexual, coarse, and capable of having the same kind of fantasies as men."

Marlowe hasn't included a rape day-dream, a penis-envy aria or a confession about how women suck men dry but she insists nothing has been omitted on account of its content; structuring simply required tough choices. "Berkoff shows women at their most monstrous, but also at their most gentle and vulnerable. How many male playwrights manage to do that?"

Not many now, and certainly a scant number in 1972 when she met him, a decade after graduating from drama school. Marlowe, frustrated with the roles in rep and on TV, was "stunned" by Berkoff's Agammemnon and played a choral role in the Roundhouse run of The Trial in 1973. Marlowe, brought to Britain at 10 from Australia, established an outsider's affinity with the East End malcontent. He decided they had a future working together, but she was too much in awe. So she formed a rock-theatre group with two other actresses from his company. The Sadista Sisters toured for three years, and even played the Reading Festival ("We could have been quite big, I think").

By the time she came back, surer, stronger, she'd missed the chance to star in East and West, but thereafter "it was a love affair conducted through work. I felt I had to bring something of me to his plays. I've watched young people who've learnt the Berkoff style, but haven't inhabited the parts. What I tried to do was be a counterfoil to him".

Berkoff is all admiration. Dahling You Were Marvellous contains a spoof of their luvvy friendship, in which he pays her a compliment that says as much about him as it does her: "You've got balls!"

She's also had the courage to go in a direction that hasn't always been lucrative. "I could have made more money from a conventional career," she admits. "If I'm being truthful, part of me would love to be a Hollywood actress, but I've left it too late."

Berkoff could have helped, if he'd made the movie of Decadence himself. Instead, he succumbed to the need for a big co-star and chose Joan Collins. ("I said to him, `I quite understand but I wish you'd found someone better'. It died a quick death.") Her acquaintance has paid off in other ways. As a result of being given one of Berkoff's short plays, Lunch, she was invited to try her hand staging it at the Library Theatre, Manchester, in 1983 and has been successfully directing since. "I'm not sorry about the choices I've made," she says. "I've loved working with him."

Like her hero, Marlowe has every intention of continuing to put her time and effort where her mouth is.

`Berkoff's Women' is at the Assembly Rooms (0131 226 2428) to 30 Aug; `East' is at Pleasance to 30 Aug (0131 556 6550)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week