First Night: Comic Berkoff in bashing form

`East' Vaudeville Theatre London

DAD'S CHIP-FILLED belly is so vast it seems to dominate the family dinner-table. He smashes his invective home with an HP sauce bottle, invoking Oswald Mosley with passion as he revels in homely anti-Semitism. Around him, the family has stopped listening. The boys are revving up for their next shag, while Mum is dusting haplessly, absorbed in her own grey dreams.

Steven Berkoff's East was first performed at Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre in 1975. Twenty-five years on, he has proved as a director that the play can still burn with the furious comic energy with which it was originally written.

From the moment when a beam lights the stereotypical old-fashioned working- class silhouettes - Mum's curlers trapped in a headscarf, Sylv's peroxide pony-tail, Les and Mike's jaws stuck out firmly with blind defiance - it is clear the audience is going to have the humour thrust down its throat Berkoff-style.

Soon Matthew Cullum and Christopher Middleton are making you laugh with the kind of facial expressions and movements that leave cartoonists no room for improvisation, while Mum, Dad, and Sylv provide a chorus of ruefully animated apathy.

The plot is simple - Les and Mike have both slept with the same "bird" (Sylv) and after shedding copious amounts of each other's blood, have bonded in shag-obsessed brotherhood. Their accounts of their adventures and conquests are set against a claustrophobic working-class world, in which Mum and Dad sit sucked into their own blinkered fantasies.

The play mixes elements of Greek drama, Shakespeare, and classical-music references with East End gobbiness - as if Berkoff is bashing the heads of high culture and low culture together.

His continual in-your-face style has led to increasingly cynical questions about whether his aggression outweighs his skill, but this production is evidence of the subtler side of his brash talent. Cullum and Middleton are the highlights of a cast that seems to have sprung directly from Berkoff's brain, with its energetic forcefulness. Jonathan Linsley is a stunning flatulent Dad, Tanya Franks revels in her coy tartiness, while Edward Bryant as Mum steals entire scenes with his understated drag act. Visually and verbally the evening is guaranteed to knock you off your polite perch with admiration and laughter. RACHEL HALLIBURTON

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test