By Nicki Orrell
As I walk into East’s rehearsal room, the first word I hear is ‘cunt’. Or perhaps it was ‘fuck’. From the violent language to the frenetic energy that filled every movement- it was clear that East was here to offer Durham something very different to what it has ever seen before.
East by Steven Berkoff is a verse play, following five working-class Londoners from the East End and the trials and tribulations they face. When considering why this piece is important, those involved have many suggestions. Adam Evans, who plays Dad, argues that this is important because it tackles “more human, working-class centric questions about consent and sex and living on the dole“, causing East to be unique compared to the “climate and culture over the last few years [which] has been representing very middle-class high floating ideas of …life and death and philosophy.” Talor Hanson, who plays Sylv, takes this further, stressing that some of the characters are incredibly identifiable with Sylv almost posing as an embodiment of all women. Angharad Phillips, Producer, adds to this stating that “East is quite a clever comment on the dangers of having quite extreme gender binaries and how they affect both men and women.” Adam Simpson, Director, broadens this, adding to a point Phillips makes about the metatheatrical nature of the piece, with his “they’re very much actors playing their roles on stage. We’ve really pushed that to the limit.” Thus far, East seems like its social commentary extends into many layers beyond the expected.
It’s not just the themes East explores that make it special, though, Corinna Harrison, who plays Les, argues it is the Berkoffian language, explaining that he “paints a picture with his words” with every word seeming “violent” or “oozing”. East also uses the medium of physical theatre to express its characters and ideas, a medium not often seen in Durham. Just watching the rehearsal was almost exhausting, more energy is given in the few minutes I have watched than I have seen in some entire shows. Each of the actors seem to agree that the rehearsal process has been intense, sometimes with ten hour days and no break. Henry Fell, who plays Mum, believes that maintaining this physicality was the most challenging aspect of rehearsals.
When asked about the visual and technical aspects of the play, Simpson remains entirely elusive- declining to expand on any of it. Thus, we are left with sparse knowledge. There will be ‘technical intergration’ with the acting somehow, and I have been given an exclusive, where I am able to confirm that chairs are likely to be involved. Somehow the lack of information piques my interest in the piece, that the faith the Director has in the actors to be the main draw of audiences rather than any special effects is reassuring, and from the little I saw, well-deserved.
Each of these aspects work together to create something potentially extraordinary. It may have taken ten hours of rehearsal each day, a strict exercise regime and various crying bouts, but the energy and surety of character that the actors demonstrate gives a hint that it will be entirely worth it.
‘East’ will be performed at The Assembly Rooms Theatre from the 20th to the 22nd of October at 19:30. Book your tickets here.
Photo credit: Lion Theatre Company