24 April 2011

Steven Berkoff's One Man at The Riverside

My current plan to explore London's fringe theatre took me back to The Riverside (Hammersmith) again, this time for Steven Berkoff's one-man show called, er, One Man.

It's a show in two very different halves. In the first half we have Edgar Allan Poe's Tell-Tale Heart and after the break it's "Dog".

It was Tell-Tale Heart that attracted me as I grew up on a feast of Edgar Alan Poe films, usually featuring Vincent Price.

The story of the Tell-Tale Heart was narrated to us by the murderer himself who explained why and how he committed the crime. He also explained to us that he was not mad, as had been suggested to him, though clearly he was.

Steven Berkoff plays the murder with menace, dressed up smartly in black and standing in a harsh spotlight. Sadly I've been unable to find a decent photo of this on the internet and I was unable to take one myself as I was sitting in the front row and so it would have been too obvious (I've been told off at The Riverside before!).

This was a theatrical tour de force. The acting was mesmerising and powerful and we were sucked in to the murderer's dark and distorted world. Genius.

The only slight problem that I had was with some of the audience (particularly one small group of young women) who found some of the man's exaggerated behaviours amusing. I thought that we had all stopped laughing at mental illness. The false humour ill-fitted the mood and story too.

Dog was completely different and you were meant to laugh at that.

Dog gave us a view of the life and thoughts of a middle-aged Millwall fan and his rottweiler told through a series of short scenes.

This was over-the-top chavviness, exaggerated to make the point and to entertain. For example, he drinks thirty four pints of lager when fourteen would have been sufficient for the story.

Steven also plays the role of the dog and we get his view of what it is like to have an owner like that. Mostly the dog starts by swearing and threatening extreme violence but calms down and becomes the submissive dog the owner thinks it always is.

In Tell-Tale Heart the drama came from the story, in Dog it comes from the characterisation. And so, again, there is the slight discomfort that we are laughing at somebody simply because they are not like us and we feel superior to them.

The lack of a story, or of any obvious jokes to compensate, makes Dog the weaker of the two pieces but both are really all about Steven Berkoff's acting, and that's why they are worth seeing.

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