Steven Berkoff in Corpse

Berkoff
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Steven Berkoff‘s CORPSE is a fascinating coup de theatre. Sirs in Purgatory – Ralph Richardson, Lawrence Olivier and John Gielgud – bittersweetly reminisce on the highpoints and lowpoints of their careers, with drunken Celts on either side – Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole – to keep things from getting too genteel.
 
It is not merely laugh-out-loud funny, and not consistently so, because it is so serious. It’s a meditation on the actor’s art and on the poetic intensity that fires the soul of the greatest performers. Berkoff has distilled a lifetime’s experience and observation into this metaphysical drawing-room comedy.
 
That Berkoff plays Olivier adds another layer of wry humour, and works well at the delightful denouement. A maverick outsider luxuriates in the role of British Theatre’s most iconic modern thespian. There is room for ironic manoeuvre.
 
Though there are satirical moments, it is a very affectionate portrait of the great men, warts and all, and also properly researched. Berkoff’s polemical thrust is to argue that these legends of the stage and screen managed to do something that it is no longer possible to do. The directorial culture of today inhibits, even prohibits, actors from giving the Haley’s comet performances of yesteryear, e.g. Olivier’s Othello. Political correctness, it is suggested, is also a problem.
 
The legendary actor none of them ever saw, Edmund Kean, is also spoken of highly here, via Byron, and a hilarious true story unfolds of the gift of a Byronic sword passed or otherwise down the generations of acting geniuses.
 
Last night’s performance at Pleasance was a rehearsed reading so it feels like it’s still something of an almost completed work-in-progress. I particularly enjoyed George Telfer’s Gielgud and Glen McCready’s Burton for their uncannily achieved physical and vocal resemblances to their characters.
 
Berkoff writes so very well. He is a dramatic poet in the Aristotleian sense. Hints of Shakespearean conspiracy theory gave way to a fruitful comparison of Shakespeare with Harold Pinter, honouring both. There is wit and even shots of spirituality in the text, as well as his trademark intensity. Doubtless there may be disagreement among the ranks of younger generations of actors about whether or not it is possible to emulate the Sirs and the hell raisers of yore, and yes it’s a masculine feast, but few of them would not find something to wonder at in this production.
 
Review: Niall McDevitt
 
Photo: Julie Goldsmith 
Steven Berkoff as Lawrence Olivier in Corpse
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corpse
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CORPSE – A rehearsed reading of a world premiere by Steven Berkoff.
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Thursday 21st & Friday 22nd January, 7pm.
Tickets £5.
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A unique opportunity to hear the latest work from a theatrical legend. The Pleasance are delighted to host two public readings of  ‘Corpse’ by Steven Berkoff, directed by and starring Berkoff himself.
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Laurence Olivier, Peter O’Toole, John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson and Richard Burton. Berkoff puts five giants of the stage and a golden era of the classical stage under the microscope in a new play that fizzes with the deliciously sharp turn of phrase and coruscating wit that we have come to anticipate from this icon of the modern stage.
100 tickets per night available only – BOOK NOW!
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