Theatre review: An Actor’s Lament
Stephen Berkoff in The Actor's Lament

Edinburgh Festival Fringe Scotsman review: An Actor’s Lament at Assembly Hall (Venue 35), reviewed by Joyce McMillan 

Stephen Berkoff in The Actor's Lament

A fringe legend is walking the stage; but alas, this is not the Steven Berkoff of 40 years ago, when his fiercely physical performing style – and the bold, baroque poetry of his writing – seemed to have something radical to say about good and evil, crime and legality, greed and lust in a newly affluent Britain.

In the world beyond the stage, greedy power-holders grow more absurd and arrogant by the hour; but Berkoff’s focus has narrowed, in his seventies, and his subject in this play is nothing but theatre – not theatre as a metaphor for life, but old-style British theatre as a kind of club, with its preening stars, its grumbling malcontents and its hard-working ordinary members.

So for an hour or so, Berkoff struts and frets on stage, together with delightful fellow performers Jay Benedict and Andrée Bernard; Benedict plays a successful playwright, Bernard plays a delicious and dancer-like actress, and Berkoff – in black, with snakeskin shoes – naturally plays an actor who also writes.

The tradition of the actor’s complaint is a long one in theatre, and Berkoff carries it off in charismatic style, as his character rails against critics and directors, and stages a long dispute between writer and actors as to who most needs whom.

Does any of it matter? Not a bit. Berkoff’s view of theatre is old-fashioned, and his litany of complaint absolutely predictable, to the point where he himself seems inclined to send it up.

If you are a member of that army of dedicated thespians who descend on Edinburgh at Festival time, you may find An Actor’s Lament amusing. But if you see theatre as an art form with any significance beyond itself – any power to address real dilemmas, real crises, real contemporary lives – then there are literally hundreds of shows that you should see, before you spend any time on the little and inward-looking world that Berkoff chooses to inhabit here.

MORE INFO: An Actor’s Lament is at Assembly Hall

Originally published in The Scotsman

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