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East at The King’s Head Theatre, London

With brains, heart and guts it still hits home

I ventured to trendy North London to watch an iconic play about gritty East London. Something ironic in that.

East arrived in 1975, from its Edinburgh Festival premiere, transferring to The King’s Head and launching Steven Berkoff’s raucous style. This revival shouldn’t work. Theatre - and audiences - should have moved on. But it - and we - haven’t. I wanted to write about the play’s unworthiness in the modern age, how it has dated and seems lacklustre. So out of touch. But the play still shocks, no-holds-barred; it is funny as some things never change; it is tragically brutal in a way that smacks so many new plays across the jaw and shouts into their faces ‘Wake up! Do your bloody job! Say something worthy…’

Director Jessica Lazar has assembled an amazing cast, who throw themselves into the style. Physical theatre is not everyone’s cup of tea, mime makes many run for the hills - but this is for adults, it is not cutesy. It sidles in alongside the prose: Berkoff’s quasi-Shakespearean text testing the audience, stretching plausibility as East End thugs and lovers fight verbally and physically in battle.

I think the star of the show is debutante Boadicea Ricketts, playing an angry, sleazy and sexy Sylv. She shines and shows no fear. Aided by Jack Condon, another making a professional debut, as Les.

Condon’s presence is assured and confident. Throwing himself around the stage with ease - it is somewhere he belongs. His counterpoint is James Craze, playing Mike.

Together, they live the best life can give them, albeit tough and frustrating. The parents are no better - exaggerating about their own youth, constantly comparing and bigging themselves up into more grotesque creatures than their offspring. Debra Penny and Russell Barnett play Mum and Dad - always on the verge of murder or enlightenment, neither of which arrives. Instead, they dream.

There is live piano accompaniment courtesy of Carol Arnopp, supplying a Cockney pub atmosphere as well as a soundtrack to the story.

What’s not to like? Well, the dancing’s a bit fuzzy and could be neater. At times, there is roaring where a whisper would suffice, but this is in-yer-face theatre. The East London that Berkoff knew may have changed - it’s probably trendier than the North of London now - but the memories linger and their relevance still reverberates. With brains, heart and guts it still hits home.

Producers Atticist

Photography Alex Brenner

Design David Doyle

Venue The King’s Head Theatre, 115 Upper Street, Islington, London

N1 1QN

Performing until February 3rd 2018

Tuesday to Saturday at 7pm (no performances on Mondays)

Sunday Matinees at 3pm

(additional Matinee on Saturday February 3rd at 3pm)

Length 2 hours, plus an interval

Box Office website and

telephone 020 7226 8561

Tickets £19.50 (concessions £15/£18)

Premium are available priced at £25

Twitter @theAtticist, @KingsHeadThtr, #BerkoffEast

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