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When being invited to a production at The Rose Theatre, Kingston for free, I have to admit I was initially a little cautious – I mean, quality theatre shows for free? We can only wish! ‘West-End-On-Tap!’ And when I was told it would be Steven Berkoff’s East, I became the living embodiment of scepticism – a feeling running through me similar to the awkward sensation when watching a comedy gig and nobody laughs at a new comedian’s joke. And yet, I knew I still had to go. It was then that I was told it was being presented by byMoonlight Theatre Company, and this scepticism morphed into excitement and anticipation – somewhat reminiscent of the scene in Santa Claus 3 when Jack Frost receives a hug for the first time!
At last year’s International Youth Arts Festival, byMoonlight presented their take on the Shakespearean classic The Taming of the Shrew. It was brilliant! Vibrant and crammed to the brim with energy, so much so you could see the talent physically forcing the sweat out of the brow of each and every single actor on stage. Additionally, something that byMoonlight seem to have adopted into their theatrical style is the addition of contemporary song for comedy value, a trait that proved effective in The Taming of the Shrew, and a feature that makes a delightful return in their latest show, East.
In short, East was a wonderfully woven web of physical theatre, cockney slang, musical interludes, comedy, and great acting from a tremendously talented cast. The performance itself was a revamp of their award winning 2012 production at the Brighton Festival, The Edinburgh Fringe, and also at The Leicester Square Theatre. It is easy to see why this production would please the crowds.
Upon entering the Rose auditorium, to the tuneful sound of a Yamaha keyboard played by a suave looking young gent (Greg Harradine), I wasn’t sure how much of an audience would gather. Naturally, being the early bird, I had a pick of the best seats before any other audience arrived… if any! As the Act One beginners call neared, the stalls began to fill with a good 80% of the stalls having bums on seats.
And then it began… East. The initial few scenes took a little ‘getting into’ and to say the cast were handling some classical text, it did sound a little rushed at times and hard to grasp the action. This being said, I must note that the diction and vocal work of Turan Duncan (as lead character Mike in this production) was rather admirable and after conversing with those in the audience not familiar with Berkoff, he really brought it to life for them and guided us through some of these difficult scenes. This being said, the entire cast certainly got into their stride in the following scenes and presented Berkoff incredibly well. The next few hours flew by. I began to make a list of stand-out performances but within the first hour I’d managed to write down the entire cast’s character names! However, It has to be said that if there was one character that could easily steal a scene for the entire audience, it would be Mum, played by a brilliant young actor, Andy Currums. His combination of comical timing, animated physical presentations, and his impeccable awareness of his body in the space on the stage culminates in this commendable performance in East.
Furthermore, East certainly proved to be a theatrical ‘feast for the eyes’ with imaginative creations and exhibitions of the anticipated ‘c**t speech’ by character Mike when a giant vagina was created through the combination of a single red light, and some precise and fascinating physical work by Turan Duncan. This certainly got a mixed reaction from an audience ranging from the hormonal teen to the traditionally reserved theatre goers that regularly grace The Rose Theatre. It was brilliant.
When the final scene came to light, the audience did not quite grasp that the piece had ended! Obviously this audience was more used to a traditional black-out or curtain-close, but with a single hand clap from a few of us, we got this show the round of applause it deserved.
East is regrettably only the second production I have seen by the brilliant director Tanju Duncan, but I will certainly be looking out for this company in future and I recommend you do too. If East is where byMoonlight are heading, that must be the way to success!