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Berkoff’s Women

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars

“A man wrote that,” deadpans Linda Marlowe at the end of a speech by a woman totally in charge of her own destiny. The woman is the Sphinx from Greek, Steven Berkoff’s gobby streetwise update of Oedipus, in which the ferocious Sphinx takes no prisoners, especially if they are men.

This is a running theme in Marlowe’s 65-minute compendium of some of Berkoff’s greatest hits in her latest touring version of a show she first performed almost twenty years ago. Given that Marlowe had spent another twenty on and off doing the plays with Berkoff himself, to suggest she’s earned her spurs is something of an understatement.

Those spurs are certainly there in the fox-hunting scene from Decadence, in which Marlowe’s character Helen orgasmically taps into the stiff-upper-lip fantasies of a little England that never was, but which currently appear to be in the full throes of a last gasp revival. There are a fair few orgasms here, most of them described in Berkoff’s sinewy third-person poetry in such a way that it lays bare his early works as variations on a theme.

Love in Berkoff’s world might come in spurts, but Marlowe’s ferocious rendition goes at such a gallop that at moments it threatens to run away from her. A mix of charisma and vulnerability reins it in for the deadly elegance of Clytemnestra in Agamemnon and poor, put-upon Sylv in East, who mourns how easier life would have been if she’d been born a fella’.

Finally, a rendition of From My Point of View, a very atypical Berkoff short story, lends poignancy to its sad-eyed tale of an older woman’s descent into lovelessness as she wanders through London’s fleshpots in search of the comfort of strangers. As Marlowe walks towards the dark once more, the situation she embodies looks and feels like the sort of everyday tragedy you might see in old black and white films. Like Berkoff, and, more pertinently here, like Marlowe, they sure don’t make them like that anymore.

The Herald, February 22nd 2019



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