Edward Bond

East - Steven Berkoff

I am simultaneously in love with, and completely disgusted by this play. In the best way possible. Berkoff shows us life in London's East End with no apology; his characters interact in a series of scenes which morph in and out of one another expressionistically, while what is contained in each is strikingly "real". Somehow he leads us to find these people charming, and then just as we are lulled into feeling some sort of empathy, he does an about face and causes us to be completely distanced, alienated, and disgusted...not only at the characters, but at ourselves for beginning to empathize with them.

The structure is seamless, and the language morphs in and out of modern text, Shakespearean parody, and expressionistic monologue.

It feels like Berkoff inherently understood the essence of what Brecht, Bond, Artaud and others wanted to do, taking it to new heights by managing to alienate us within a construct of what we are led to believe is realism. The graphic descriptions of violent sexual acts is far more shocking than Bond's aloof characters.

Berkoff is brilliant.

Review: Saved by Edward Bond - Lyric Hammersmith

The stark bare stage greeted us. White background. The house was quite loud, but I could faintly hear some pre-show sound, which I was able to distinguish as that which was used later in the show between scenes. It sort of sounded like the reverb heard in your ears after a loud noise....or the sound movies use to show the impact of a very loud sound on our hearing, to create momentary deafness.

The stage was set mechanically between scenes, with all actors in full light bringing things out and placing them, almost as in a rehearsal. Also interesting was the fact that for nearly all scenes, a wall was brought down so that the scenes used only half the stage. The sense of claustrophobia in this was apparent...although it did sort of make me feel sad that there was so much wasted space.

Now the show itself....I've thought this through awhile. I think my feeling is that I liked the script and design, but not the direction. This play's core is about disengagement; that the overbearing and controlling nature of our day to day existence (particularly that of the poor or underclass) drives us to be de-sensitized to extremes, and specifically extreme violence. This was driven home by the disengagement of the audience from the play via the set and mechanical setup between scenes. But the characters didn't convey this. Rather, particularly Pam, but most characters played at a high pitch of anger throughout the play. This made it exceessively difficult for me to believe that their response to the stoning would be cold indifference. Given the level of anger at everything, I expected this to bubble over into a response against what happened....or at least a defense of it. But this didn't come.

I wanted to be shocked. I wanted to be made to think about the kind of person who could let this happen and not do or say anything. I even entertained the idea that nothing happens on purpose; that they very point is to make me mad. Maybe it was. But I am not sure I appreciated this. One must assume that if the playwright is doing a talk-back on the production, he condones the interpretation....so maybe it is just me.

here are some links to others' thoughts on the play: