Steven Berkoff

Plays by Steven Berkoff

Ritual in Blood

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

Lincoln, 1255. A young boy is missing. The fallout is hysteria and antisemitism from the Christians who believe the Jewish population have abducted the child in the quest for a blood sacrifice. One small incident frighteningly escalates and mob hatred is fomented by the cool cynicism of the moneyed classes. A play wider in scope and relevance than its historical setting, Ritual in Blood looks at the persecution of the Jews and, by implication, the persecution of all peoples.

Steven Berkoff’s Ritual in Blood was first performed by Nottingham Playhouse Company in summer 2001.

Roast

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

'A one-act play is like a confession'. So writes Steven Berkoff in the preface to the collection of his One-Act Plays. In his introduction to the collection, Geoffrey Colman, Head of Acting at Central School of Speech and Drama writes:'It is the one-act play, however, that most profoundly and immediately amplifies Berkoff’s extraordinary literary and theatrical voice. . . In discussion, [Berkoff's] eyes quite literally light up at the mere mention of the one-act construct. With relish, he outlines the bare-knuckled immediacy of its form and fatal but inevitable blow. Perhaps the very real pleasure in reading these nineteen one-act plays by Berkoff should not be about comparing them to his other plays at all, but imagining them newly and in performance. Berkoff’s theatre continues to refuse smallness of theme and narrative, and defies those who wish to collapse the place of theatre into reality-inspired ‘true’. A reading of these pieces will require the need for a performance alertness, ‘real’ at its very threshold.'

'The plays in the ‘Persecution’ sequence have the removed authority of poetry, being more like fragments or woodcuts with all detail captured . . . An ‘appalling tale’, so described by Berkoff in his author’s note for Roast, this play describes a horrific anti-Semitic story in such rich and exquisite language that it acts as a sort of morphine-like cloak, numbing our ability to resist such an utterly gruesome account of a mother telling a story to a child. The antique repetition of its language sets this play apart from our own age, feeling almost late nineteenth century in style, as Wilde or Maeterlinck might have described the atrocity of a twentieth-century world war.'

Samson's Hair

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

'A one-act play is like a confession'. So writes Steven Berkoff in the preface to the collection of his One-Act Plays. In his introduction to the collection, Geoffrey Colman, Head of Acting at Central School of Speech and Drama writes:'It is the one-act play, however, that most profoundly and immediately amplifies Berkoff’s extraordinary literary and theatrical voice. . . In discussion, [Berkoff's] eyes quite literally light up at the mere mention of the one-act construct. With relish, he outlines the bare-knuckled immediacy of its form and fatal but inevitable blow. Perhaps the very real pleasure in reading these nineteen one-act plays by Berkoff should not be about comparing them to his other plays at all, but imagining them newly and in performance. Berkoff’s theatre continues to refuse smallness of theme and narrative, and defies those who wish to collapse the place of theatre into reality-inspired ‘true’. A reading of these pieces will require the need for a performance alertness, ‘real’ at its very threshold.'

Of his cycle of Biblical plays, Berkoff writes: 'There is something so vital and dynamic about our wonderful biblical stories, myths or parables that they lend themselves so easily to a modern interpretation. Of course their passion speaks directly to all of us and few of us are immune from the same problems and obsessions.'

Samson's Hair places the famous lovers centre-stage, emboldened by the poetry of their words, showing the devastating betrayal that will ruin them both.

The Secret Love Life of Ophelia

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

Hamlet and Ophelia express the infinite variety of their passion in a work which takes the form of an epistolary play in verse. Steven Berkoff's startlingly original drama charts the lovers' story beneath the surface of Shakespeare's play. With a muscularity of language tempered with tenderness, Berkoff's play is shot through with images of courtly love, sexual desire and intimations of future tragedy. The chill of the ending perfectly offsets the preceding violent heat in what is another unique piece of work from the individual talent that is Steven Berkoff.

The Secret Love Life of Ophelia was first performed at the King's Head Theatre, London, on 25 June 2001.

Sink the Belgrano!

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

Inspired by the events and personalities of the Falklands War, Steven Berkoff’s verse satire Sink the Belgrano! is primarily concerned with the underlying values and attitudes revealed during the war at all levels of society.

Sink the Belgrano! premiered at London's Half Moon Theatre in September 1986.

Sit and Shiver

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

How a certain Jewish family mourns a dead patriarch. The term is 'sitting Shiva' (mourning for seven days), when friends and relatives commiserate, usually in the home of the deceased. As children, we always understood this to be 'sit and shiver', which also seemed most appropriate. While death has claimed the old man and triggered the usual inflated eulogies - 'how important a man becomes when they die' - it has also brought to the surface hidden anxieties and grievances, only exacerbated when a visitor shows up bearing strange news that threatens to tear the family apart.

A Jewish black comedy in the Berkoff tradition.

Sit and Shiver was first presented at the Odyssey Theater, Los Angeles, in March 2004. The European premiere was held at the New End Theatre, London, in association with Saw Productions, in May 2006.

Six Actors in Search of a Director

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

'A one-act play is like a confession'. So writes Steven Berkoff in the preface to the collection of his One-Act Plays. In his introduction to the collection, Geoffrey Colman, Head of Acting at Central School of Speech and Drama writes:'It is the one-act play, however, that most profoundly and immediately amplifies Berkoff’s extraordinary literary and theatrical voice. . . In discussion, [Berkoff's] eyes quite literally light up at the mere mention of the one-act construct. With relish, he outlines the bare-knuckled immediacy of its form and fatal but inevitable blow. Perhaps the very real pleasure in reading these nineteen one-act plays by Berkoff should not be about comparing them to his other plays at all, but imagining them newly and in performance. Berkoff’s theatre continues to refuse smallness of theme and narrative, and defies those who wish to collapse the place of theatre into reality-inspired ‘true’. A reading of these pieces will require the need for a performance alertness, ‘real’ at its very threshold.'

Six Actors in Search of a Director shows the run of secondary actors in a major Hollywood production. Filming somewhere in the biting cold, the various actors are awaiting their call in the green room. All of them are in awe of the unseen star of the movie, and all of them feel the crushing reality of their own secondary existences – important only when the star's eyes, or more exactly, the director's camera, should light upon their forms.

This is an Emergency

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

'A one-act play is like a confession'. So writes Steven Berkoff in the preface to the collection of his One-Act Plays. In his introduction to the collection, Geoffrey Colman, Head of Acting at Central School of Speech and Drama writes:'It is the one-act play, however, that most profoundly and immediately amplifies Berkoff’s extraordinary literary and theatrical voice. . . In discussion, [Berkoff's] eyes quite literally light up at the mere mention of the one-act construct. With relish, he outlines the bare-knuckled immediacy of its form and fatal but inevitable blow. Perhaps the very real pleasure in reading these nineteen one-act plays by Berkoff should not be about comparing them to his other plays at all, but imagining them newly and in performance. Berkoff’s theatre continues to refuse smallness of theme and narrative, and defies those who wish to collapse the place of theatre into reality-inspired ‘true’. A reading of these pieces will require the need for a performance alertness, ‘real’ at its very threshold.'

This is an Emergency pits Brian, an unemployed actor in his sixties, and his wife, Barbra – who is getting increasingly frustrated with Brian's inert career, against Joe, a rather loutish cab-driver who invades their lives on evening.

Steven Berkoff was born in Stepney, East London and started acting at the City Literary Institute when he was 19. Following more training at the Webber Douglas School of Drama, he worked extensively in repertory theatre in England and Scotland - doing every job from understudy to stage management. In 1968 he formed his own company, the London Theatre Group. Through mime, gymnastics and voice, the Group liberated themselves from the conventions of mainstream theatre and started to evolve an innovative, more integrated theatrical language. Berkoff's encounter with the mime artist Jacque le Coq in Paris was seminal in this. Steven Berkoff's plays include East, West, Sink the Belgrano!, Decadence, Kvetch, Acapulco, Ritual in Blood, Oedipus, Messiah: Scenes from a Crucifixtion, The Secret Love Life of Ophelia, West, Decadence, Sit and Shiver, Greek, Harry's Christmas, Lunch, Acapulco, Sink the Belgrano!, Massage, Sturm und Drang and Brighton Beach Scumbags. He has written an autobiography, Free Association, and the theatre books I Am Hamlet, Overview and Meditations on Metamorphosis. Among Berkoff's film credits are Octopussy, Beverly Hills Cop and his own production of Decadence.