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Steven Berkoff's Lunch and The Bow of Ulysses at the Trafalgar Studios

Published by: Clare Brotherwood on 12th Oct 2016 | View all blogs by Clare Brotherwood

The end of the pier show, Steven Berkoff’s double bill is not. These two short plays may be set on a pier, with a backdrop of the sea and sounds of a funfair and even donkeys braying (do they even still have donkey rides on beaches these days?) in the background, but there is nothing superficial about Lunch and The Bow of Ulysses.

In true Berkoff style the dialogue and the style of acting punches you in the face, and in the intimate space that is the Trafalgar Studios it is almost explosive.

Certainly, at times, Man’s character seems too big for the small space, and the energy that Shaun Dooley (currently in TV’s DCI Banks) puts into his performance made me glad I wasn’t sitting in the front row! Nigel Harman may be memorable as an actor in EastEnders and Downton Abbey, but he is now certainly making his mark as a director. He delivers, with a freshness, what Berkoff is about.

Lunch was written in 1983 and shows what happens when Man and Woman first meet, on a pier during their lunch break.

The exaggerated mannerisms, so typical of Berkoff, and Man’s awkwardness as he tries to chat up Woman, cause much amusement, and should be at odds with the beautiful, poetic dialogue. Instead, we gape in wonder as Dooley chews every word, savouring them or violently spitting them out.

Woman is the complete opposite - quietly leading Man on with very little expression, and Emily Bruni is beautifully controlled.

There are scenes which are uncomfortable to watch, and our perception of the characters change, but the exchange between them is sometimes electrifying.

The Bow of Ulysses was written in 2002 and is a sequel to Lunch. Now we find Man and Woman 20 years on and with an unhappy marriage behind them, blaming each other for their own inadequacies, soured and disappointed. It’s painful to watch, the only relief being that Woman’s delivery is so deadpan and cutting we can’t help but laugh. But is it a nervous laugh you make when you see how true to life - your life - it is.

Berkoff, in the capable hands of Harman, Dooley and Bruni, certainly hits home!


Steven Berkoff’s Lunch and The Bow of Ulysses is at the Trafalgar Studios until November 5



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