Review: GREEK

reviews Greek by Stephen Burkoff

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★★★★☆

Dir. – Amy Warren
Cast – Joe Mackenzie, Lucy Theobald, Andy Bewley, Golfo Migos, Leigh Douglas

Eddy is an ordinary London guy caught in the plague of an 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 amongst some of the most controversial language to be found on stage and powered by some great performances this is definitely a show to try and get to see.

The play only features five actors, Joe Mackenzie as the main character Eddy, and then Lucy Theobald, Andy Bewley, Golfo Migos and Leigh Douglas serving as the chorus and taking up the many other roles the play requires. As our line through the play 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 in the character’s darker or tenderer moments. Able to use his physicality as a performer or simply hold the audience attention with stillness 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 when he ages ten years but this is largely a small complaint.

From the very opening scene in a pub, to an enactment of a character’s view on the Irish and violence in London through to the creation of an imposing creature in 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 more 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 screen behind which to create silhouettes was effective at creating 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 seen.

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. The use of all four actors as the chorus to embody the scenes felt largely underused. This meant that whilst individually being well acted the scenes featuring long monologues which do not utilise the chorus as strongly in hindsight to begin to fade 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, there felt like there was a level of physicality and visceral interaction that left unmined. The shocking moments largely coming from the writing where you feel it could also have come from the performances.

The sound and lighting design whilst perfectly capable in enhancing the mood, there is again the feeling that it could have been pushed further. Feeling ultimately like a tool in the plays arsenal that could also have been used to far more powerful and extreme ways. An issue that this production could not really escape lies in the writing itself, and that is the 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 in exploiting its potential to the full, this production of GREEK is still an experience to behold. And whilst there feels like the potential to push a contemporary connection to England on the brink, the play manages to remain fresh and powerful. The confrontational and explicit nature of the play means that it will most likely not appeal to everyone, but for a genuinely powerful and comic performance that despite some battle fatigue from the unrelenting writing, is a consistently engaging, enjoyable and thought provoking play.

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