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Review: Steven Berkoff in One Man

Mon 20 Oct 2008 In: Performance

Steven Berkoff in One Man. ASB Theatre, The Edge, Auckland, 17 October Berkoff was a name on everyone's lips in the London theatre scene of the seventies. He was an icon of iconoclasm, the virtual voice of the avant-garde, a disturbing presence who continually cocked his snook at the establishment, the staleness of the theatre, and the world in general. It was though he were constantly "mooning", presenting his naked posterior to the entire universe. Theatre was irrevocably changed by him, so I was dismayed to be told by someone who teaches acting that his students had never heard of Berkoff. This says more about New Zealand than it does about the protagonist of One Man, the show with which Steven Berkoff is currently touring Australasia. But it would also explain the shamefully poor house on opening night. Granted, the ASB Theatre was probably not the place for this show on many levels, but, even so, I was shocked. The old man has certainly not lost his fire. From the opening moments, when his voice took command of that large space, his miming and screwing around with that remarkable instrument sucking in the audience, to the end of the show, bathed in sweat and salivating all over the front row, Berkoff gave a virtuosic and kinetic performance most young actors couldn't have managed. His is a particularly physical presence, raw and frightening to some. His body is no longer lithe and limber, but he can still give a credible impression of the young football hooligan in Dog and switch lightning fast from one character to another. The incredible eyes and hands can be seen, no, felt, far back in the house, and his paunch heaves when he breathes in deep as hell to deliver with that voice made of raspings, whinings and bellowings. The first half consisted of the Edgar Allen Poe story The Telltale Heart in a version eclipsing any reading of the famous Grand Guignol narrative one has ever encountered. The variations in tempo and vocalisation constantly kept the audience on the back foot, fascinated to see what could possibly come next. In Dog he was a raging Pitt Bull, the very epitome of animal behaviour whether playing the canine or the human. The British actor Sir Antony Sher in his autobiography Beside Myself describes his first impression, in 1968, of Berkoff thusly: Strutting, snarling, grinning, half human, half creature, he charmed and frightened us. It's nice to know that some things don't change. Larry Jenkins - 20th October 2008    

Credit: Larry Jenkins

First published: Monday, 20th October 2008 - 12:29pm

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