Dramatist, provocateur and one-time Bond villain Steven Berkoff has never been one to shy away from a controversial subject.
And there’s certainly no pussyfooting in this night of five, new, one-act plays written by him about what he perceives to be this nation’s deep-seated anti-Semitism. Berkoff almost revels in the subject’s ugliness – making it as painful to watch as possible – in a wilful attempt to provoke a reaction.
The first three of the five – which have all also been co-directed by Berkoff – portray grotesque caricatures. In ‘How to Train an Anti-Semite’, it’s a couple of benefit claimants, smoking, swearing and blaming Jews for the Israeli-Palestine conflict, while in ‘Roast’ a Christian woman tells her young child a bedtime horror story about an ‘evil’ Jew.
There’s not much subtlety in any of these pieces, which merely parrot themes, rather than build on any of them. Watching them is, exhaustingly, a little like being bashed over the head again and again.
The final two are better. ‘Line-Up’ is the most moving. Two starving men in rags stagger forward slowly as they walk towards soldiers who are dividing people into groups to be gassed and those who can work. The play’s rhythmical prose drums home how pointless it was to hope for life in the face of the Nazi ovens.
Although Max Barton co-directed, there’s a distinct Berkoff stamp on the plays: each are performed with surreal, stylised movements and repetitive rhythm on a bare stage, often with pregnant pauses.
This simplicity works and when the audience isn’t being undermined by a woeful lack of subtlety, the evening offers food for thought.
By Daisy Bowie-Sell