THEATRE / Leading the life of a dog: Paul Taylor on Steven Berkoff's One Man at the Garrick Theatre

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The Independent Culture
Like Richard Goolden and Moley, like Pavlova and the Dying Swan, Steven Berkoff and the role of a rabid Rottweiler were made for each other. He impersonates Roy, a 'tank with teeth', in the last of the three solo turns that make up his One Man show at the London Garrick Theatre. He also plays Roy's owner, a skinhead Millwall supporter and, as he effects lightning switches of identity between the beer- swilling yob and the fang-baring, lead-straining mutt, you are hard put to say which is the less burdened with sensitivity.

After all, the yob may down 30 pints ('Oink, oink, oink') and then barf them up in such copious quantities that he has to breast-stroke back to the surface, but Roy, who loves a chicken chow mein 'even if it's been keeping warm in my guts for the past six hours', wins few points for politesse for his methods of pavement- clearance. And both of them are subject to the same lurches between sentimentality and violence. You're just thankful that it's only humans who follow team sports.

The piece is electrically performed but doesn't actually aim at a tricky target. The same goes for 'The Actor' which skewers the envy, insecurities and driven egotism of the acting profession as Berkoff tries to keep up his paces on the endless treadmill of auditions, false camaraderie, failed private life, new woman et cetera. As in 'Dog', much of the comedy depends on grotesque physical exaggeration: the vigorous congratulatory handshake, for example, that turns into a semi-murderous throttle. There's also a slightly spooky sisyphean feel, particularly at the end when the lights fade on the actor, still pacing on his perpetual motion loop, but flailing now and intoning the same phrase from his audition piece 'or not to be, or not to be, or not to be . . .'.

These two items, which form the second half of the show, are, to my taste, more successful than the preceeding work, Berkoff's adaptation of the Edgar Allan Poe story 'The Tell Tale Heart'. The submarine slowness of pacing that so suited the decadent languors of Berkoff's Salome badly detracts from the tension of this tortured tale in which the mad narrator murders an old man to avoid his haunting stare. It's a study of obsession and nerve-wracked self-revelation (unable to endure the sound of the dead heart beating under the floorboards, the murderer exposes himself), but Berkoff's version is so full of jokey-Gothic digressions (insane facial contortions; or bits of irrelevant business, like the long demented display of tongue-dangling on the word 'stealthily') that the narrator comes across as a self-defeating paradox: a monomaniac who keeps getting sidetracked.

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