Many critics over the years have labeled Steven Berkoff as the bad boy of the British Theatre Establishment. His plays like East, Greek and Decadence presented an unrefined and raw truthfulness that alienated audiences, which caused him to be shunned from the theatrical mainstream. Berkoff’s work has always been an exploded and highly satirized response to his own personal experience. When once upon a time he chewed up and spat out issues such as race, politics and the class system, in his new play 6 Actors in Search of a Director he tackles the domestic act of waiting.
In 6 Actors in Search of a Director Berkoff, who both wrote and directed the play, takes us into the lives of six bit part actors waiting for their call on a film set. We are confronted with a nondescript hotel lounge, minimal set that includes a few leather sofas and a glass coffee table. It is snowing outside and the white walls enhance the sense of non-place that Berkoff creates; this could be any hotel room in the world with any six actors in the world.
The director can be heard offstage bellowing ‘cut’ repetitively after every take and after what seems like too long to be artistically engaging, the actors emerge onstage. The discussion quickly turns to the inevitable; they bicker, sulk and deliberate the suffering they all endure for their art. They represent types, the old school actor, worried workaholic, young anorexic but it’s hard to feel sorry for these characters; there isn’t much substance to any of them and the whole piece doesn’t feel fully developed, which is unusual for Berkoff.
There are some genuinely funny moments, especially from Neil Stuke who played Brian, the egoistical, self obsessed actor and one feels that the whole play hinges around him. The rhythm of the writing is brilliant, the beats and pauses are very well placed and true to Berkovian form, a slowed mime sequence. The use of this device would be out of place if it were not used during Debra’s (Sarah Chamberlain) emotional monologue reflecting on the merits of stage acting, the ‘holy’ realm into which only few would survive.
6 Actors in Search of a Director doesn’t seem to have the punch of some of Berkoff’s earlier work but it is nevertheless a fantastic piece of writing and well performed. It is clearly a self-parody but what one would expect from Berkoff and that’s why it’s interesting to watch. It’s an easy play to get, entertaining and well worth seeing.