Coriolanus Edinburgh Festival Theatre, Thurs 22—Sat 24 May.
Steven Berkoff could probably sculpt granite just by looking at it. His trademark skinhead and metallic gaze project a laser-beam charisma that is hard to resist. It is clear how this actor, writer and director manages to juggle three or four successful careers - and sound off at the theatre establishemnt while he’s at it. He’s scary, self- opinionated and with a voice like a muted power-drill he hardly pauses for breath as he talks. I'm not convinced that we’re going to get along.
The topic is his touring production of Coriolanus, which visits Edinburgh en route to Japan and Israel. Shakespeare’s tense, dramatic tale of political machinations and power-lust is ideal Berkoff material, written in compact, pared-away language devoid of familiar Bard-like frills. He plays the eponymous tyrant (of course), but is keen to emphasise that this is no start vehicle. He sees the strength of the production in its ensemble approach and physicality. ’Usually when you see Shakespeare, one actor speaks and the rest stand around holding spears,’ he intones. ’But I’ve formed the company into a cohesive ensemble. The group becomes the environment of the play. Everyone is significant, whether they’re speaking or not.’
No one can direct a crowd scene like Berkoff. In his renowned production of Oscar Wilde’s Salome', he coaxed magnificently atmospheric movement from his actors to create a breathtaking living picture. Many performers love working in this way, but are surprised by how demanding it can be. ’Some actors have to re-learn their craft when they work with me,’ mutters Berkoff, with just a hint of irony. ’One or two are quite put out. They expect to turn up, do their own scenes and go home.’
Shakespeare my way: 'the RSC is a disgrace,’ reckons Steven Berkoff
It's hard to imagine anyone daring to ask Berkoff for the afternoon off. But while he appears to flatten everything in his path, it’s easy to forget that he’s struggling to offer an alternative in the face of a huge, monolithic structure: the Shakespeare Industry. He growls about the leaden conventions of the British theatre establishment. ’T he RSC and the National are a disgrace. They are dominated by academics who turn Shakespeare into something for the privileged few. These university pundits, they’re not physical people. Shakespeare’s language has so much energy and they’ve emasculated it. It has to be played physically.’
He’s right, of course. There's a lot of flabby snobbery around, as the recent controversy over Baz Luhrmann's Romeo And Juliet demonstrated. Interestingly, Berkoff approves of the film for its innovative approach. It's clear that classical theatre deserves fresh ideas. Berkoff may scare the pants off lesser mortals, but his muscular, testosterone-packed vision is compelling. It could be just the shake-up classical theatre needs. (Catriona Craig)
Getting carried away: Richard Callan as William Hare
Edinburgh academic Owen Dudley Edwards, was first performed more than ten years ago by Theatre Co-op, a company co—founded by Evans, who later went on to run the Fools’ Paradise comedy Circun. This revival launches Telling Tales, Evans's new company, based at Cafe Graffiti, the long- running Edinburgh Fringe venue which is now open all year. From the basement of the former church at the bottom of Broughton Street, the company aims to bridge the gap between European cabaret and informal theatre, which is why the dark depths of Burke And Hare, With its snapshot structure, seemed such an appropriate opener
'The Burke and Hare scandal brought about the end of the Scottish Enlightenment,‘ says Evans, 'It made Edinburgh a laughing stock, but the centre of the story as far as I'm concerned is this incredible love st0ry
Burke And Hare
Edinburgh: Cafe Graffiti, Wed 28 May—Sat 28 June (not Mons).
Victorian values return to haunt us this fortnight, as a pair of notorious serial killers come back from the dead to stalk the streets of Edinburgh. For Burke and Hare aren’t just an after-
58 THELIST 16-29 May 1997
hours myth to put the Willies up the tourists. Rather, according to Patrick Evans, whose dramatisation of their stOry is about to be revived, 'They were more famous for the political scandals in the elections that followed, and the whole thing about whether bodies should be exhumed at all. Above all though, they were not resurrectionists. They never once robbed a grave.’
The play, based on a paper by
between Burke and his mistress Helen McDougaIl.’ This gets beyond the bogeyman image, and brings into play a level of religious guilt. Burke was exiled from Ireland after a failed marriage, which led him to believe he was damned because of his passion for Helen. 'He loved Helen so much,’ says Evans. 'He ended up murdering people to give her Heaven on Earth.’ (Neil Cooper)
Lurking in the wings of Scotland’s theatres.
A DISPUTE IS BREWING over the Scottish semi-final of the Daily Telegraph/Avalon Open Mic Award, held in Edinburgh on Monday 12 May. The contest - whose overall winner last year was Scottish entrant Frankie Boyle - has six regional semi-finals, leading up to a final at the Edinburgh Festival.
A complaint has been raised by Jane Mackay and Tommy Sheppard, who run The Stand, Edinburgh’s bi- weekly comedy club. Five of the eight contenders in the Scottish semi-final are based in England, including the winner, TJ. Murphy.
Mackay and Sheppard, who established The Stand to provide opportunities for inexperienced comedians, claim the selection process was ’a real slap in the face for emergent Scottish acts’. They have lodged a complaint with London-based organisers Avalon requesting, ’that this semi-final be rerun exclusively for acts who have come through Scottish venues, so like can compete with like.’
In a heated letter to Avalon, they argue that Scotland's tiny stand-up circuit leaves novice performers with little opportunity to develop their craft, 'while those imported from Luton or Manchester have dozens of clubs on their doorstep.’
The Stand gave Frankie Boyle a regular slot to help him prepare for last year's final, and refutes any accusation of ’comedy settlerwatch’ by booking acts from south of the border — among them TJ. Murphy.
'I think what The Stand is doing is great, but I don’t think Avalon would do this without good reason,’ says Karen Koren of the Gilded Balloon, a veteran of Edinburgh’s comedy business since 1982, organiser of the annual So You Think You're Funny talent contest, and judge for the BBC New Comedy Awards. ’We all want to see new people coming out, but we’ve got to remember that Scotland has a population of four million and they’re not all interested in comedy. We need something regular, but it’s hard to make it pay.’
As the Edinburgh Festival looms, with its fiercely competitive comedy scene, let’s hope the rival factions can resolve their differences.
I See page 67 for review
Making a Stand for Scottish-based comedians: Jane Mackay