Marc Anthony Turnage’s epic compositions blend perfectly with the passion and virility of Berkoff’s Greek, in this powerful experience as part of Grimeborn 2018 at the Arcola.
I’m a big fan of Berkoff’s work; whenever I get to see it performed, I’m like a child at Christmas. To my fellow Berkoffian enthusiasts, I urge you to see this show. Don’t be scared by the “opera” aspect. If anything, the compositions here only serve to heighten the drama of Berkoff’s verse.
For those unfamiliar with the piece, Greek is set in London’s East End during the 1980s. The lighting and set design beautifully capture the cold and brutal landscape of th time, while also referencing the problems that London’s working class faces today (“Hipsters Out” spray-painted in big letters across the wall). The story follows a young man named Eddy (Edmund Danon), who’s told by his parents (Richard Morrison & Philippa Boyle) that one day he will kill his father and have sex with his mother. They heard it from a fortune teller when Eddy was a young boy.
In an attempt to avert his destiny, Eddy leaves his parent’s home with a heroic plan to ail the woes of of London’s inhabitants. But much like his ancient predecessor (Oedipus), he inevitability brings about the tragic events that were prophesied and meets his real mother (Laura Woods).
The entire cast give sterling performances – all incredible singers and each approaching the powerful and brutal text with openness and confidence. Edmund Danon as Eddy is supple and graceful, moving across the stage with a balletic quality. It’s incredible to watch him seamlessly switch between a soaring baritone voice and a raspy, almost perfect, East London dialect. Philippa Boyle is also exceptional in her role as the Mum. I loved the way she threw herself into the role – fearlessly biting into the uncomfortable material, all the while maintaining a confident soprano voice.
There’s certain parts of Marc Anthony Turnage’s composition that reminded me of a film score. It meant the music felt accessible and familiar. He’s made creative use of percussion, which serves to elevate the warlike tension of the verse. I was very impressed by the band’s precision and confidence – and must admit, at times, my gaze drifted from the action on the stage to admire the craft of the musicians.
I left the performance feeling uplifted and energized. Perhaps it was the parting sentiments at the end, about the roles we play in society, that gave me such inspiration. There’s one very powerful moment in Greek where the Mum and Dad characters were thrust pieces of paper into the audience’s faces. Although it’s not made apparent exactly what these pieces of paper signify, I took them to be birth certificates. The piece of paper that binds one to one’s destiny, to our role(s) in this world. While Oedipus demonstrates to us the tragedy and horror of predeterminism, Greek gives us an alternative interpretation. We are all given a role in society and that role may be a difficult one, but there’s no need to claw your eyes out about it…