East, the lyrical play written in 1975 by Steven Berkoff, has been revived at the King’s Head in a performance that is raucous, energetic and enthralling. Fittingly, the play is set in East London, and follows a period in the lives of three adolescents reaching maturity, accompanied by their ageing and jaded mum and dad.
The writing is bawdy and hilarious. As we would expect in a lyrical play, Shakespeare is not escaped and we hear Sylv (Boadicea Ricketts) mimic lady Macbeth when we hear of the stains that “even the suds of Pucel -or DAz” cannot remove. Les calls in Othello when he refers to himself as “one who loved not wisely, but too well” and there are countless other allusions to the bard that are broken-up and twisted into this modern diction in genius inter-weavings that catch you off guard every time.
The characters are wonderful examples of vulnerability that is exposed as defensiveness and perhaps what can best be described as sass. Mike (James Craze) and Sylv share a tantalising scene in which they try and entice each other, crossing boundaries and flaunting their sexuality. Sylv shares a heart-breaking monologue with us that is a testament to Ricketts talent as she commands the audience with confusion of her attraction and her use as a woman in relation to men. Les (Jack Condon) shows us the darker side of loneliness in a monologue that is both heart-breaking and appalling, whilst the mum (Debra Penny) and dad (Russell Barnett) depict a stagnating relationship searching for external excitement that is all too familiar and all too tragic, but hilariously portrayed in this play.
The direction from Jessica Lazar is unbelievably tight. There are beautifully choreographed moments of physical theatre, such as the animated trips to the theme park, and other moments that can best be described as impeccable chaos; the best example of this is the argument over the breakfast table between mum and dad that is punctuated by the other three silently fighting at the table over toast and tea and beans.
Berkoff’s play borders on the fringes of absurdity whilst remaining wonderfully naturalistic. Despite the 30 years that have passed since its inception, the characters are as intrinsically knowable as they once would have been. We see their insecurities hidden behind the wit and pseudo-confidence. Overwhelmingly, we see conveyed a feeling that is universal and constantly combatted- loneliness.
East is playing at the King’s Head Theatre until 3 February 2018
Photo: Alex Brenner