Left - Cameron Pike and Lydia Nicholson in Lunch
Steven Berkoff is termed a “master of language”, so here’s the bone I have to pick – there is more to mastering language than prolific and loquacious descriptions of the sea. Regardless of how image-evoking his metaphors can be, the average mind will have wandered off by the 30th. I started noticing the performers’ uneven patches of make-up and one aggravatingly protruding neck hair on the guy in front.
Sorry, yes, about the performance. Berkoff in Two Acts presented us with the short one-man piece Dog, followed by the two-hander Lunch.
Jonathan Bragg performed both dog and man, having also directed both acts, leaping on-stage from squat pit bull terrier, Roy, to his overly-fond and forgiving owner, all while presenting a tirade of story-telling and maintaining a fantastic Pommy accent. You got the sensation of tripping over your own feet as you tried to keep up with his fast-paced speech. The character also appears to have that syndrome of owners looking like their dogs – his character was wonderfully bull-doggish, though with less anger and more jovial swearing and boozing. He depicted the bogan element of the Brits (to couch it in ‘Aussie’) and their violent soccer obsession, and even included a jab at Neighbours, which everyone appreciated, or at least pretended to. The language in Dog is full-on yet manageable, supporting the character and hitting many notes of humour and irony. You wish Dog would just keep going, though you do feel out-of-breath along with Bragg.
In Lunch, Berkoff lets words run wild. Man spots Woman sitting on a bench and is gripped by unassailable lust. Woman will happily be lusted for, and tugs him along a little, then is terrified by his psychotic behaviour.
Man sells space. Woman has dinner ready for her husband at 6.10 every evening. When they meet, they are mesmerised with each other and with the ocean before them, and proceed to reveal their fears, depths and darknesses as they wax lyrical on the sea.
Berkoff’s language, no matter how eloquent and striking, loses all effect through excess. Through their speech and crazed behaviour, the characters are drawn largely, grotesquely. Tom and Mary’s meeting culminates in an encounter that screams hatred more than lust. Yet once tangled in the web of descriptions, you’re at a loss to find the meaning of it all.
Cameron Pike is Man, passionate, needy, oscillating from weak to strong, unsure of who or what he is. Going beyond the verbal, the highlight of this piece was his physical representation of his own and surrounding salesmans’ characters. His physical versatility and vivid facial expressions lend themselves wonderfully to the absurdity of the scene. The humour of the piece was mostly found in his slimy yet manic characterisation.
The Woman is a creature acted-upon, desperately asserting her position within her husband’s heart, loins and kitchen, yet searching to fill the hole that remains (no pun intended…). Lydia Nicholson performs the woman with a discordant woodenness. Both her voice and gestures fail to quite gel with the feel of the act. Was sensuousness purposely omitted from her character? We can understand the characters’ loathing of each other at the finish, as an expression of their own self-hatred. Yet though there were obvious sexual urges from the man, she exuded nothing.
This piece left me with too many questions. Had I been able to follow the layered metaphors, perhaps some answers would have finally slapped me. I was relieved that my first experience of Berkoff was relatively brief, however I would have relished some more of Jonathan and his Arsenal-biting dog.
Caveat Theatre Company presents
Berkoff in Two Acts: Lunch & Dog
Two plays by Steven Berkoff
Directed by Jonathan Bragg
Venue: Worldsend Pub, 208 Hindley Street, Adelaide, SA 5000
Dates: March 8th – 12th 2011 @ 7pm (approx 50 mins)
Tickets: $15.00 Adult | $12.00 Concession
Bookings: FringeTIX 1300 FRINGE (374 643) | www.adelaidefringe.com.au