Between the crowd’s gasps, laughs and did that really just happen? SUDS’s last show for this term was by no means the least — if anything it was the best show of the year. East, directed by Elly Warboys, produced by Eibhlín Jones and adapted from Steven Berkoff’s East, packed out the Debating Chamber from May 4th to May 6th for good reasons.
Set in 1960’s London rough East End, the plot follows the working class lives of Les (Ayesha Shaheen), Mike (Flossi Cameron), Sylv (Savanna Forbes), Dad (George Bricher) and Mum (Joe O’Driscoll). Spoken in a hybrid of Shakespearean verse and cockney rhyming slang, the lines were quick and sharp, and each actor was totally comprehensible, without missing a beat, lines rolling off the tips of their tongues as if they spoke that way every day. The storyline was outrageous (think mother–son incest and statutory rape) and the characters outlandish, and between all that sex, violence and a lot of really raunchy humor, there was something very truthful about our world. To make it all the more interesting, the male characters (Mike and Les) were played by women and a man played the mother character. Cameron’s rendition of Mike was remarkable, with high wasted jeans and braces, blond hair tied up in a ponytail and red lipstick smeared over her face — incredibly enough — was a stereotypical 60’s East End bloke. And O’Driscoll couldn’t have made a better mom — well, maybe his character could have been a better parent, given that incident at the movie theatre with her son (let’s not talk about it).
The 4th wall was frequently broken, Mike and Les made reference to being in a play and to being watched, they engaged with the audience perfectly as a duo, without the slightest bit of hesitation. But the transitions between scenes were what gave the play a very particular and well thought-out structure; if you looked closely enough the play was secular, on a periodic loop but by no mistake. “We pull what we think we are Mike,” said Les, on a bus trying (and failing) to pick up a pretty girl deemed “better” than him (Bircher with a blond wig). “We get what we are,” and the room went quiet. The joke was no longer funny as a wave of desolation came over all the audience. The meaning of the play came out, at least for me, in that very instant. The DC allowed for the scene to take place at night, which rendered all things quiet. The words “we get what we are” rang in our ears, there is no hope it seemed, no promise of a better life here in East End. That’s where Forbes’s character became important, she was the beacon of hope of the play. She tried to break up Les and Mike’s arguments over her, which result in nothing but violence; tired and frustrated, she was annoyed to say the least about the environment she was simply stuck in. A moving performance by Forbes, the only character that, although didn’t provoke any belly laughter, gave the play a string of optimism, which is imperative for a performance such as East. Particularly in the closing scene, when Sylv says, “We will not end our days in grey born light,” resolution finally dawns upon the stage as she then continues saying “where were the stars when we were born that ordained our birth and death should be stamped out,” why does the East side have to be this way? Change can happen if you want it. Her character was put in stark juxtaposition to the father figure. Bricher character is racist, old fashioned and just plain ignorant, the play vocalized his slurred words only to shut them down right away as the rest of the characters made a ruckus to dim his voice, to emphasize not only its toxicity but also its irrelevance.
Many of these theatrical tools were used throughout the play, rendering the small DC an entire world. A world with motorcycles, buses, bars, movie theatres, roller coasters, flats, dining rooms, bedrooms and more. Warboys’ imagination flew in every direction and angle creating a little universe right inside the black box inside Falmer house. Congratulations to the spectacular cast and production team for the best show of the year, not only was it done beautifully, but it also generated a vast array of emotions in the span of one hour, the most remarkable of them, inspiration.