There was a time, before the emergence of the single origin pour over and pop up Peruvian beard salon, that getting smashed in Hoxton had a very different meaning. The East End of London in the 1960s, as seen through the eyes of Octopussy’s General Orlov (writer Stephen Berkoff), was a community blowing bubbles and getting in to trouble.
We meet Mike (Shannon Smith) and his gang of ruffians, the kings of Stamford Hill, up to their usual hijinks. The north London lethario promptly meets his latest sweetheart to be, Sylv (Becca Jones), and the couple attempt the usual song and dance of courtship. But the heavy hand of the East End is far more tantalising for Mike than Sylv’s delicate touch. Writer Stephen Berkoff’s cacophonic hybrid of Shakespearean verse and cockney rhyming slang is made ever clearer by the distinct physical movements it demands of its cast. Newcomers George Waring (Ralph) and Jamie Watt (Les) deserve particular mention for their attempts to challenge the boundaries of their own physicality.
“A sprinkling of well-timed dance routines does not justify the ball being dropped during moments when the audience are less transfixed”
Directors Omid Faramarzi and Rachel Angeli have an adequate understanding of Berkoff’s Total Theatre methodology. It is evident from the sporadic choreography that they recognise the necessary physicality, however the execution of said compositions doesn’t quite cut it. Every movement must have purpose. A sprinkling of well-timed dance routines does not justify the ball being dropped during moments when the audience are less transfixed. Additionally, the scene transitions felt clumpy and ill fitting with the overall style of the piece. The slickness that Faramarzi/Angeli so clearly sought after, and on more than once occasion even accomplished, would have been achieved throughout had they focussed on less extravagant, razor sharp gestures.
Smith is a commendable gang leader; the chorus echoes his composed yet vehement demeanour. At times he lacks the energy that the role demands, but the blood, sweat and tears spilt in the show‘s climax are a testament to his dedication. Niamh Caines, despite her hunch and 5 o’clock shadow, fails to offer anything rousing to the exhausted Honeymooners dynamic. Although the pair (Tom Selves as Pearl) warranted the most laughs, their timing and delivery requires serious refining. Amongst the machismo, Jones’s oscillation between forlorn lover and troublesome Twiggy is well handled. The glisten in her eye when discussing her traumatic past is a comforting reminder that these characters, although violent and crass, aren’t completely void of sentiment.
“Pimblett’s veteran vision of the Hackney Marshes is controlled and atmospheric, but most importantly purposeful”
Will Pimblett’s lighting design, combined with the smoke laden stage is rather effective in conjuring the choking fog that tormented 60s London. Pimblett’s veteran vision of the Hackney Marshes is controlled and atmospheric, but most importantly purposeful. Under Lucia Dove’s musical direction the barren stage comes to life with the familiar sounds of a bygone London, though at times the score detracted from the action on stage. The sheet used to dress upstage was an astute decision from the directing duo. While the increasingly popular use of visual media on stage has quickly become a tiresome staging choice for many modern productions, Faramarzi/Angeli succeed in finding the right balance. Its dual purpose as a projector of film and of shadows is an exciting addition to the New Theatre’s ever-increasing catalogue of technological wonders.
Berkoff said “West is about the courage to live according to your spirit, and not the guidelines laid down for you by others”, Faramarzi/Angeli certainly have courage. Tackling such a physical production is a mammoth task for even the most seasoned of director and although this tenacious twosome has yet to find their spirit, they should be extremely proud of what they have achieved.
‘West’ is running at The Nottingham New Theatre until Saturday 21st November. For more information see here