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Steven Berkoff  books

Steven Berkoff´s plays have all been published. As well as plays he has written short stories and most interestingly books about staging plays. These often give extremely useful insights into particular plays and into writing, directing and acting in general. They are also very enjoyable.  You can purchase the plays on the shop page.

Gorbals 1966

Berkoff's photographs from Glasgow in 1966.  31 pages of photos.  The photos are extremely good at capturing people inn the poverty of the Gorbals area of Glasgow in the 1960s.  However the reproduction does not allow the depth of the imagery to come out, with some being difficult to make out details.  There is a very good short interview with Berkoff.

Sod the Bitches!

Berkoff novel Sod the Bitches!

Berkoff's first novel.

Tales from an Actor's Life

Steven Berkoff Tales from an Actors Life

More writing on being an actor Steven from 2011 "there is a camaraderie amongst actors that is quite rare in other performing arts since that they are doing is basically unraveling their lives in front of you."

Diary of a Juvenile Delinquent

Diary of a Juvenile Delinquent

An autobiography by Steven from 2010 "I think we all have an obsession to peep into the distant past and not just our own, but others whose lives have sunk into oblivion."

A good overview of Berkoff's early life up to his first day as a student at the Webber Douglas School of Singing and Dramatic Art- "The door closed and the lesson began".

What is a suit but a kind of outer skin, a coat or a bird's plumage as it matures and seeks to attract suitable females to its exotic and glorious image.

and on being in solitary confinement in a children's prison

if there was anything I loathed more than anything, it was being left alone.  But there I was, and to pass the time I was given rusty metal trays to scrape


The Collected Plays, Volumes 1,2 and 3

Steven Berkoff plays 1 Steven Berkoff plays 2 Steven Berkoff plays 3

The collected volumes include some short but sharp introductions by Berkoff, I have included some quotes in my descriptions of the plays.  For beginners Volume 1 is best, and includes East, though the English may be difficult for non-English speakers. Volume 2 has many of his one-man plays. Volume 3 has the historical plays.

Volume 1: East, West, Greek, Sink the Belgrano!, Massage, Lunch, Bow of Ulysses, Sturm und Drang.
Volume 2: Decadence, Kvetch, Acapulco, Harry's Christmas, Brighton Beach Scumbags,
Dahling You Were Marvelous, Dog, Actor
Volume 3: Ritual of Blood, Messiah, Oedipus

The adaptations

Steven Berkoff The Trial, Metamorphosis, In the Penal Colony  Steven Berkoff Agamemnon, The Fall of the House of Usher

Kafka adapted by Berkoff: The Trial, Metamorphosis and In the Penal Colony.
Aeschylus´ Greek drama Agamemnon and Edgar Allen Poe's horror story The Fall of the House of Usher, both adapted by Berkoff.

Fiction and poetry

Gross Intrusion and other stories 1979

Steven Berkoff Gross Intrusion 

Early stories by Berkoff, with Gross being a good description of some of them as Berkoff looks at aspects of sexuality, but more to shock than to reveal insights.  Berkoff is not really a short story writer, but some are worth reading:
- Say a Prayer for Me is similar to the later Graft stories
- Daddy is an early version of the mother in the cinema scene from East
- The Secret of Capitalism is similar to Kafka´s Imperial Messenger

At times though Berkoff´s writing is over-sentimental

the sea is heavy and the small waves roll over each other like small kittens
and, as in Graft and his non-fiction, his descriptions of women veer into shampoo advert territory
her hair would impersonate a waterfall spilling over a cataract

On From my Point of View Berkoff naively says
I managed to crawl inside a women's mind... I found it was not so different from a man's

This lack of self knowledge is similar to his claim to have perfected a Scots accent in Prisoner of Rio and Shakespeare's Villains, when in fact it sounds like the sort of thing a drunk would do when impersonating Rob Roy.  The paperback version includes the extra stories Hell and Actor.

Requiem for Ground Zero 2002

Requiem for Ground Zero

Berkoff´s well-intentioned but not very good poem about 11 September.  Written shortly after the event, it became a one-man performance at the Edinburgh Festival in 2002.  Well intentioned and genuine, but the poem is not very good.  The imagery is obvious- the planes surf the sky, moments are precious (and two verses later bonds are also precious), overweight ladies waddle and death is grim-faced.  The poem is often very clumsy 'Hey Jules... It's Brian, I'm on a plane...' he said, / 'That's just been hijacked; it doesn't look good,' he adds.  The best verse is the personal one: My irony, we play the death of Christ, / I take a needed break to rest my bones, / I switch the TV on to kill the time / And watch time killed in screams and horrid moans.

Another view by site visitor Linda (thanks Linda) is:

I was extremely moved by Steven Berkoff's poem/performance. Hadn't read it first, so might have had a different impression. But in Edinburgh I wound up sitting right in mid front row & was completely mesmerised. Had been a bit apprehensive, ie couldn't imagine how anyone could do justice to the subject matter & feared it might be full of ego. But in the event found the simplicity of the words, images & delivery - the pictures they painted & normality they evoked - served to accentuate the absolute horror. Felt I hardly breathed for the whole hour & rooted to the seat after - just wanted to sob.

The poem was later included in Berkoff's Poems for the Working Class.

Graft: tales of an actor 1998

Steven Berkoff Graft Tales of an Actor

A collection of related short stories about Harry (an autobiographical failed Berkoff). From the initial audition to enter actors school to the end of a career each story picks out a part of Harry's existence
there comes a point in men's lives when not to do something means that nothing is worth fighting for anymore

There are some good insights into acting and directing
Most English plays had to have a drinks table as this gave the actors something to do, when writers can't quite find a way of moving their characters

Sometimes Berkoff does come too close to sentimentality.

On specific plays, acting and productions

I am Hamlet 1989

Steven Berkoff I am Hamlet

Very detailed notes, almost line by line, of Berkoff´s interpretation of Hamlet.

The pangs of dispriz´d love
with a small pause before love while thinking of Ophelia´s treachery

Get thee to a nunnery
I make to go off again, and again I use this ruse to suggest to the watchers a fragmented mind that pirouettes like a crazy moth around a flame. I come back again, refreshed by a new thought, like a firework you think has spluttered out, only to cackle into life once more

Or if thou wilt needs marry

A Prisoner in Rio 1989

Steven Berkoff A Prisoner in Rio

Berkoff´s diary during the writing and filming of the film about the British Great Train Robber, Ronnie Biggs, in Rio de Janeiro.

It gets worse and worse. Some kind of horror creeps over me. I have to escape. Grotesque abuse of performers spending all night doing a scene of walking up and down stairs, or spending hours driving pointlessly around. All this will be cut.

Coriolanus in Deutschland 1992

Steven Berkoff Coriolanus in Deutschland

We repeat the scene where the citizens come on like birds flying in to feed on corn...I enjoy the sweep and flow of the scene and how it visually and textually fits and discharges into the air a real sense of the danger to come

Meditations on Metamorphosis 1995

Steven Berkoff Meditations on Metamorphosis

Highly recommended.

A diary of Berkoff in Japan staging Metamorphosis. Both the autobiographical sequences
when it came near opening night I would sit in the cafe opposite the theatre so that I could enchant myself with my name up in lights
and the insights into the staging
the lodger allows you to tap your unlawful side, the bottled up crazy part of you, the childish, anarchic side... the harlequin aspect of the lodger allows him to react to everything with the brightness of a monkey
are excellent.
The concealed is always more alluring than the revealed

Richard II in New York 1994 published 2008

Steven Berkoff Richard II in New York

An older woman in a red duffel coat sits on a stool at the end of Pete's Diner smoking a perpetual cigarette... it is a perfect simulation of a Hopper painting.  That reminds me of Richard II, which I am here to direct.  We expect the usual flamboyant opening, expect it so much that we protect ourselves against it.  We brace ourselves for the expected... We want to be touched deeply but mustn't strive for the obvious and be an easy lay.

On acting and his life

Three Theatre Manifestos 1978

Published in Gambit magazine in 1978, Berkoff´s theory of theatre. Essential reading!!

Get rid of all the covering and social mannerisms of careerism and all protective attitudes. Be a sacrifice and live dangerously.

America 1988

Steven Berkoff America

Poetry and essays. It is no longer available, but most of the essays are included in Overview.  The essays are good though the poetry is generally not particularly good

We'll get you in the end, don't run
There's no escape, no credit cards
Will help you when you drop the bomb
To preserve Disneyland and Dynasty

There are some interesting moments

oh god, oh god, oh god, oh god,
forbid the streets, forbid the streets, forbid
the heat, the heat, the overwhelming heat, the heat.
Devouring me, devouring me, devouring me

Steven Berkoff America   Steven Berkoff America
The illustrations by Graham Dean are good.

The Theatre of Steven Berkoff 1992

The Theatre of Steven Berkoff

Mainly black and white photos of his work as a director/writer as well as actor. It gives a good feeling for the staging of such works as The Trial.  The front cover photo, which I use of the start page of the site, is by Robert Pederson.

Overview 1994

Steven Berkoff Overview

Short autobiographical essays, including some previously included in America. Typically Berkoff is staging a play (so in control) or acting in a film (so under someone else's control). He writes at breakfast when he turns up before anyone else, and keeps himself away from other people. He will train at the gym and go jogging. For lunch he will go to different places, seeking out the obscure. When he sees cameras in a shop he wants to buy them but feels guilty at the expense, eventually does buy one then feels shy at using the hi-tech giant lens toy.

He describes a concert of the ageing singer Johnny Ray
he still had the deaf-aid...he had to adjust it from time to time, when his hand would sneak inside his coat and touch something near his heart whenever he finished a song. I suppose that when he belted he turned it down, unless he was testing his heart was still working

In his Diary of a Juvenile Delinquent, 2010 he says as a child "I went a bundle on Johnny Ray and felt really connected with him as if he had tapped something deep within me" (page 99) and "I remember taking her [a date] to see Johnny Ray, the American singer and my hero, at the London Palladium" (page 136).

Free Association 1996

Steven Berkoff Free Association

Steven Berkoff´s enjoyable and informative autobiography.

He describes his role in War and Remembrance with typical modesty
just a pity one has to wade through so much post-vital Mitchum and the rest of the stuff to get to me

but he also knows when not to take himself too seriously
It's wonderful to hear one's plays performed in another language, particularly French. It makes one sound so intelligent

Shopping in the Santa Monica Mall 2000

Steven Berkoff - Shopping in the Santa Monica Mall

Similar to Overview, Berkoff is again in cafes or hotel breakfasts waiting for a performance of a play (Salome) or a film (Flynn).  The writing is good as Berkoff avoids his prose pitfalls of metaphors that are just too forced, and over-sentimental descriptions of women.
their bellies are crawling over their belts like overflowing lava.
my heart seems to sink deeper into its chest the way a frightened puppy will nuzzle into its protector.

And there are sharp observations
on planes particularly , the response, when asked what I do, is always deep respect for the live theatre, usually manifested by an admission of having seen

and equally sharp condemnations
I sat down again and resolved never to go north of London for the rest of my life.
clubbed to death with the blunt tools of the director's imagination.

Enjoyable but it does cover old territory. He needs to get out more.

Tough Acts 2003

Steven Berkoff Tough Acts

Berkoff writing about people he has worked with, including Kubrick and Polanski, Eddie Murphy and Sylvester Stallone, Joan Collins and Al Pacino.  Recommended.

As it happened, Sly [Sylvester Stallone] dropped out of the movie [Beverly Hills Cop] and his role as a tough cop was taken over by Eddie Murphy , who turned the film info a raving black comedy, which shows how close any situation can be to humour"

My Life in Food 2007

Steven Berkoff My Life in Food

"Actor, writer and director Steven Berkoff has had an obsession with food commencing with his earliest childhood memories at his mother’s table and developed through his travels around the world as an actor out on tour. Away from the comforts of family and home cooking, food took on the role of companion and lover.

From anonymous fast food counters, East End cafés and New York diners, through falafels in Tel Aviv to sushi in Tokyo and on, Berkoff’s personal collection of anecdotal stories, documented with photographs, reveal the transforming nature of food and its significance emotionally and culturally, in his own inimitable style."

You remind me of Marilyn Monroe 2009

You Remind me of Marilyn Monroe

Steven Berkoff's book of poetry "You Remind Me of Marilyn Monroe" is described as "From sensuous, stream-of-consciousness declarations of love to a brooding meditation on the wreckage of a relationship, this collection of an acclaimed playwright's verse gives us an intimate glimpse into his thoughts, pains and passions."

Tales from an Actor's Life 2011

Steven Berkoff - Tales from an Actors Life

More reflections by Steven are now available.  "Acting must be one of the strangest professions since the rules are so flexible and few can agree even on the simplest of them".

Steven Berkoff and the Theatre of Self-Performance 2004

Steven Berkoff and the Theatre of Self-Performance

Robert Cross´ critical examination of Berkoff´s work.  A useful and long-needed appraisal of Berkoff.  Recommended.

Bedside Guardian 1991

Steven Berkoff in The Bedside Guardian 1991

A compilation of articles from The Guardian.  Berkoff writes a short article No one left to blame from 6 Dec 1990.  Berkoff picks up on a previous article by Howard Brenton.  After referring to him as a distinguished playwright, he then lashes out at him.  Berkoff rejects the people who rely on subsidised theatre, and take no initiatives of their own.  Like a lot of Berkoff vective, the argument is weakened by the vehemence.

You can purchase the books on the shop page.

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