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A: Steven Berkoff Pf: 1975, Edinburgh Pb: 1977 G: Drama in 19 scenes; prose and some free verse S: East End of London, 1970s C: 3m, 2fMike and Les are firm mates since they fought with razors over Mike's fiancée, Sylv. Sylv's Mum and Dad are a bored, deprived couple. Nostalgically, Dad recalls the 1938 Cable Street riots when Oswald Mosley led his Nazi Blackshirts through the East End. Mike seduces Sylv, Sylv dreams of being a man, and the family and Mike go on holiday to Southend. Les has sex with a 14-year-old and is sent to prison for rape. Les represents a motorbike and Mike rides off on it, flying ‘like a king’. Dad sentimentally reminisces about old times, and Mum soliloquizes about masturbating a young stranger in the cinema, only to discover when the lights come on that it is Mike. They all dance at the Lyceum, and Mike delivers his ‘Cunt Speech’, describing his sexual conquests at the ballroom. Finally, Mike and Sylv plan for the future, rejecting the empty lives of her parents: ‘we will not end our days like this’.

A: Steven Berkoff Pf: 1975, Edinburgh Pb: 1977 G: Drama in 19 scenes; prose and some free verse S: East End of London, 1970s C: 3m, 2f

Berkoff claimed East to proceed from ‘a desire to turn a welter of undirected passion and frustration into a positive form’. In episodic scenes, many of them mimed, and in language which combines Cockney slang with pseudo-Shakespearian lyricism, Berkoff depicts the vitality, humour, sexiness, and violence of East End youth, contrasted with the empty lives of their elders, and implies the vague hope that the energy of the young will find a way out for themselves. At the very least, Berkoff has lent articulacy to those heretofore neglected by the theatre: ‘Now you know our names.’

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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Steven Berkoff (b. 1937) English dramatist, director, and actor


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