Venue: Drama Barn
Eddy is an ordinary London guy caught in the middle of a plague-riddled eighties England, whose life begins to emulate a Greek tragedy in a powerful adaptation of GREEK by Steven Berkoff, directed by Amy Warren. Deftly blending comedy and tragedy through some of the most controversial language to be found on stage and powered by some great performances, this is definitely a show worth going to see.
The play only features five actors: Joe Mackenzie as the main character Eddy, with Lucy Theobald, Andy Bewley, Golfo Migos and Leigh Douglas serving as the chorus and taking up the many other roles the play requires. As the lead, it falls on Joe Mackenzie to be able carry the piece and he delivers magnificently: managing to mine the comic potential in bitingly acidic writing whilst still being able to bring a genuine emotional weight to the character’s darker or more tender moments. He is able to use his physicality as a performer or simply hold the audience’s attention with stillness and so the range on show is impressive. It might have been nice to see some slight differentiation in physicality and voice perhaps between the two acts of the play (in which his character ages ten years) but for the most part, this is only a small complaint.
From the very opening scene in a pub to an enactment of a character’s view on the Irish and the violence in London, through to the creation of an imposing creature (the sphinx), the chorus consistently impressed. The multi-rolling capabilities of the cast and their physical abilities are not to be underestimated. In their incarnations as major roles Golfo Migos and Andy Bewley stand out as Eddy’s parents, successfully blending the grotesque comedy and social commentary that makes the play so successful.
The set was very well pitched – bags of rubbish lining the sides of the stage with a large Greek temple placed upstage creating an evocative and apt tone for the piece. The ability for the pillars to be separated out and moved around to create various locations, and these transitions to be conducted so fluidly is a feat in its own right. The ability of the pillars to be used also as a screen, to create silhouettes was effective at evoking a sense of wonder and mysticism, becoming of the play’s collision between a plague infested London and Greek tragedy. However sometimes the shadows and shapes were not as well defined as they could have been resulting in it occasionally being hard to distinguish what was meant to be being shown.
Whilst there was a great deal to be commended in the piece, it ultimately feels like a play that could have been pushed further. The kind of theatre that works best in extremes, there were many moments that felt like they were not being exploited to their full potential. For instance, the use of all four actors as the chorus to embody the scenes felt largely underused. This meant that while being individually well-acted, the scenes featuring long monologues without making full use of the chorus, begin to blur into one. Whilst grotesque and caricatured in comparison to most other plays, sometimes the performances felt underplayed. Notable in Leigh Douglas’ depiction of the sphinx, but attributable to all performers at different points during the play, it felt like there was a level of physicality and visceral interaction left unexplored. By consequence, the shocking moments largely come from the writing where it could also have come from the performances.
The sound and lighting design is well used to enhance the mood, however there is again the feeling that it could have been pushed further. Ultimately it is like a tool in the plays arsenal that could also have been used to far more powerful and extreme effect. An issue that this production could not really escape lies in the writing itself, resulting in an occasional sense of battle fatigue and desensitization to the language including the racism and explicit sexuality which occasionally loses its ability to shock.
In the end however, despite not always being able to match Berkoff’s extreme and visceral writing, and missing some opportunities to exploit its potential to the full, this production of GREEK is still an experience to behold. And whilst the potential to push a contemporary connection to England on the brink remains just that, the play does stay fresh and powerful. Its confrontational and explicit nature, means that GREEK will most likely not appeal to everyone, yet Dramasoc provide a powerful and comic performance that, despite some struggle with Berkoff’s unrelenting writing, is consistently engaging, enjoyable and thought provoking.