Posted on Friday, August 6th, 2010 at 1:40 am
Author: Mark Farnsworth
Steven Berkoff goes all, “Old Testament on our ass” with his contemporary reworking of Adam and Eve, David and Goliath, Samson and Delilah and Moses and Pharaoh. Using the Bible, as social commentary is nothing new, priests try and do it every Sunday but to paraphrase Frank Carson, “It’s the way he tells ‘em.”
A single tortured branch extends over the stark white set like the wizened hand of god. This is the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, its blackened twigs promising so much direction. But what real opportunity can its dead claws point the way to?
Bungling into this infinite space come Adam and Eve, comedy genitalia and all. This is Berkoff breaking the ice, softening us up for the kill later on. His first couple bicker and snipe at each other like a well-written episode of “Eastenders”, Adam’s dick swinging in the wind as he points out the wonder of creation, Eve decidedly unimpressed as she wants some more “Nightlife.”
While Adam has a cat’s lick and a promise, getting ready to try his charms on cockney sparrow Eve, the Serpent wraps around her nakedness slowly seducing her towards the Tree. Like a James Mason devil, cultured, urbane and graceful, the Serpent artfully misses out the Good and Evil bit and inevitably Eve takes a bite from the apple.
“Knowledge does taste sublime,” rasps the Serpent to Eve as she descends into consumer frenzy, taking Adam with her ignoring the simple beauty around all around in exchange for coats, hair-dos, fast cars, flat screen televisions and DVD players. They have left the Garden of Eden and stepped into Chigwell.
Fast forward to a café where David shares falafel and pickles with Saul, a cigar chomping East End villain with a problem: how does he persuade Dave to take out Goliath? We could be in a scene from “The Krays” as Berkoff has Saul question David’s sexuality, nudging, cajoling and flattering him to do the deed, all the while commentating on Jewish stereotypes.
“Biblical Tales” takes a darker turn as the comedy of the first two plays is mirrored by tragedy of the second pair. Samson and Delilah, the strongest entry, is a mesmerising master class of physical theatre, a psychosexual ballet of dizzying proportions. Delilah, clasped in Samson’s embrace, hypnotises him with her verbal dexterity. Delilah’s pillow talk ties Samson up in emotional knots until he is ready to reveal the secret of his god-given strength.
Desperate to prove his love, Samson relents, oblivious to the angled noir shadow Delilah casts upon the wall. When the revelation comes, it’s like a ridiculous punch line to a surreal joke, Delilah taken aback by the vain stupidity of her lover. Black scissors slowly protrude from an invisible door, a wrought iron extension of the Tree’s “knowledge”, ready to castrate Samson’s manhood.
The last act, Moses and Pharaoh, sees the old friends’ relationship slowly disintegrate as Moses unleashes the plagues on Egypt. Pharaoh puts them down to rational explanations at first, like a History Channel documentary. Yet as the plagues come thick and fast in their severity, Pharaoh’s geniality descends into blasphemous tirades, “Your God is a beast, a God of death.”
Moses and Pharaoh ends with Pharaoh alluding to the Holocaust, “One day your beast won’t be there to help you.” This bleak ending offers the audience Berkoff’s logical conclusion to Adam and Eve eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
“Biblical Tales” proves that at 73, Berkoff is still a force to be reckoned with and his ensemble cast is universally excellent. Mark Frost and Alex Giannini both have the uncanny ability to take on Berkoff’s physical appearance – close your eyes and you can hear him when they speak. Anthony Barclay’s Serpent is a sublime case of movement and Mathew Clancy’s Samson has a dignified control that masks the warrior’s dim wit whilst at the same time highlighting his vulgar vanity.
However, Sarah Chamberlain, whose metamorphosis from the unconstructed Eve into the arch Delilah, narrowly wins the acting chops from her fellow performers. Her angular features cut the air to ribbons as she slashes and glides across the stage once again proving that, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”
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