On The Waterfront, Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh Festival
Up front and fiery
Wednesday 06 August 2008
After Elia Kazan's film On the Waterfront, a superb vehicle for Marlon Brando as the washed-up, ex-boxer bum Terry Malloy, you might have expected a flood of theatrical presentations. Steven Berkoff was astonished to find that the rights of the script hadn't been picked up and, after lengthy negotiations with the author of the original screenplay, 93-year-old Budd Schulberg, he has been able to bring it to the Edinburgh stage in a thrilling production by Nottingham Playhouse.
Berkoff's extraordinarily physical retelling of the story of the dangerous New York underworld – in which the lives of the longshore dockmen are dominated by powerful mobsters – is riveting. It's a compelling study in slow motion, as the story unravels with stylised fight sequences, vivid tableaux, balletic crowd scenes and graphic mime.
No one, you might think, could touch Brando in the role of Malloy, the drifting young man who has learnt to play "D and D" (deaf and dumb) to the violent thuggery of the Mob-connected union boss. In fact, Simon Merrells brings his own brand of studied vulnerability and sullen pride to the part, which comes to life after he falls for Edie Doyle, the sister of the latest murder victim.
Edie, given a nervily bright portrayal by Coral Beed, proves steelier than she looks. And in the famous "I coulda been a contender" scene between the two Malloy brothers (with Robin Kingsland playing Charley "The Gent" Malloy), the two actors make a tightly coiled double act. Vincenzo Nicoli, too, mixes toughness with tenderness as the crusading Catholic priest.
Whether as grubby bean-counters or puffed-up pigeons, as desperate dockers or as sneering camel-coated mobsters, the dozen-strong ensemble gets under your skin. The speaking needs some work, however. John Forgeham bawls like a pantomime villain and over-gesticulates as chief mobster Johnny Friendly.
But it's the visual language that shouts loudest here, and draws you in. A silhouette of the Statue of Liberty, outstretched arm wielding a hook, looms over the bare, sombrely lit stage, which – with no props and little set save a few chairs – is left to the imagination. The hook suggests both the hooks used by the workers to unload the banana boats and the hook of corruption from which the dockers dangle helplessly.
Kazan had Leonard Bernstein as composer, Berkoff has Mark Glentworth. His almost continual underscoring, an evocative and tension-creating soundscape of jazz and blues, is heightened by a live drummer adding a brittle rhythmic tension to a production that seldom slackens its grip in pace and intensity.
To 25 August, except 12 & 19 (0131-556 6550)
Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awardsTheatre
Grace DentChannel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Rarest Beanie Baby of them all could be sold for £62,500 on eBay
- 2 Ben Affleck asked TV chiefs to hide slave-owning ancestry, new hacked Sony emails published by Wikileaks claim
- 3 Driving while dehydrated can be just as dangerous as drink driving, study suggests
- 4 Farmer told to tear down mock-Tudor castle after hiding construction behind hay bales
- 5 One Direction: Louis Tomlinson launching his own record label, has already 'signed two acts'
Better Call Saul creator Peter Gould on the creative concerns of a prequel, season 2 and the mind-numbing realities of the small courts
Britain's Got Talent 2015: RSPCA investigating Marc Metral's miming dog after cruelty complaints
One Direction: Louis Tomlinson launching his own record label, has already 'signed two acts'
Tidal CEO leaves Jay Z's music streaming service only a month after it launched
Star Wars 7: The Force Awakens: Luke Skywalker actor Mark Hamill admits he was suspicious of 'Star Trek guy' JJ Abrams
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
Food banks: One million Britons will soon be using them, according to Trussell Trust
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate