Article Title:The colourful language of
Author or Credit:Larry Jenkins
Published on:30th June 2007 - 04:11 pm
Story ID:4496
Text:Review: “Decadence” by Steven Berkoff Jennifer Ward-Lealand, Michael Lawrence Directed by Paul Gittens Musgrove Studio, Maidment Theatre Steven Berkoff, for those who haven't heard of him, was seen as the anarchist of British theatre in the seventies and eighties. His plays in those days, performed by the London Theatre Group, which he founded in 1968, usually had one-word titles: “East”, “West”, “Greek”, “Decadence”, but occasionally expanded to three: “Sink the Belgrano”, “Sturm und Drang”. All were iconoclastic, all were savage pokes at the society in which he still lives, laced with a unique brand of venom that often leaves audiences stupefied with laughter – or horror. As an actor, too, his rebellious energy always coloured performances as Shakespeare's Hamlet, Macbeth, Richard II and, most particularly, as Coriolanus. “Decadence” on one level can be considered a diatribe against the British class system, on another a ridiculing of the lower classes, on another an exercise in verbage so clever and overwhelming it actually brings on nausea and a headache. The “f” word, the “c” word, and every other provocative word appear over and over and over and over, and in verse, in the tradition of Moliere, the playwright Berkoff most often brings to mind. If his plays fit into accepted genre, then farce is the category. I can remember being stunned and shocked by this onslaught of pornographic language when I saw “Decadence” in its first season. The effect of it now, twenty odd years later, is almost as suffocating. But it's not only the syntax, it's the effect of being constantly bombarded with more information than we need to know about Steve/Les and Helen/Sybil – and not for a minute being able to get away from it, nor wanting to. The play takes on an organic character which slowly mesmerizes and devours its audience, as does its eponymous state of being. Paul Gittens has the measure of his playwright and his actors. This is a production of international standard. Both Jennifer Ward-Lealand and Michael Lawrence are virtuosi, each with death-defying courage and nerves of steel. In all of the set-pieces that, while seemingly carrying forward the thin plot, actually push the performers to the absolute edge, the pair are in complete control while appearing to abandon sanity. The famous hunt scene, with Jennifer astride Michael as her “steed” driving him in orgiastic frenzy, her mane flying, eyes blazing, ejaculating bloodthirsty obscenities like some unhinged Valkyrie as she closes in for the kill, has to be experienced to be believed. The actual amount of energy this piece requires must leave the performers prostrate afterwards. If I have a quibble, as the upper class pair, the actors could be a little more laconic. Andrew Malmo's lighting and John Parker's couch onstage (being flogged off at the end or the run) were the only accoutrements, oh, and some subtle sound effects. “Decadence” is stripped back to language, though, conversely, as a radio play it wouldn't work. It is a work for the stage (though it has been filmed with Joan Collins and Berkoff) and one needs to see the action and the faces of the characters. Larry Jenkins - 30th June 2007    
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