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Steven Berkoff east summary





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Berkoff East


Play  East
Full title East
Elegy for the East End and its energetic waste

1975 in the Traverse Theatre by the London Theatre Group as part of the Edinburgh Festival.


Five characters who double as a chorus: Dad, Mum, Sylv, Les, Mike.

Berkoff East

Mum is typically played by a male in drag.

mum in East

Mum and Dad represent what Les, Mike and Sylv will become if they do not escape their surroundings.  Sylv is the only one who will escape.

Sylv in East



Five chairs at the back of the stage.  Sometimes a table is brought on-stage.

Scenes 19 scenes, no interval.
Overview of the plot
Scene 1

Les and Mike tell how they met, and describe a fight with another gang over Mike's girl Sylv.  "Now you know our names".

Scene 3

Sylv's long speech.  She tells how Les and Mike fight for her.

Scene 4

Dad's monologue.  He talks of the old days, when fascists fought in the streets of London.

Scene 6

Mike seduces Sylv.

Scene 7

Sylv's longing speech.  After the seduction, Sylv sadly compares the care-free life of men with the life of women.

Scene 9

Les's Tale of Woe.  Les is sorry for himself and thinks of his life working in a clothes shop.

Scene 10

Mum's point of view.   Mum looks at her life which is boring her.

Scene 11

On a bus Les sees a beautiful woman.

Scene 12

The motorbike mime.

Scene 13

Dad's Soliloquy for happier days.

Scene 15

Mum remembers a sexual encounter with a stranger in the darkness of the cinema.

Scene 16

Les's Speech: A Night Out.

Scene 17

Mike's Cunt Speech.

Scene 18

Sylv accepts Mike over Les.

Scene 19

Sylv's speech of resolution. She wants to escape from the world she is in now.  But Mike and Les seem content with life, "Now you know our names" they say, echoing the start of the play.

Scene One Les, Mike, Sylv and chorus.

The characters enter and all sing a traditional London East End song together.

Les and Mike stand forward and introduce themselves ("Now you know our names").  They tell how they met, and describe a fight with another gang over Mike's girl Sylv.

Berkoff's East   Berkoff's East

East End
the East End of London.
criminal hall of fame
when suspected criminals or prisoners are photographed.
donate a snout
give me a cigarette.  Slang.
I'll bung thee a snout
I'll throw you a cigarette.  Slang.
After the Holy Saint
Mike is named after Saint Michael (Mike is an abbreviated form of Michael).
With a hard K
Pronounced with the K sound hard (so rhyming with Spike, rather than being pronounced Mick).
my handle
my name.  Slang.
he doth bestride
he stands across. Deliberately old-fashioned biblical language.
eyes.  Rhyming slang (mince pies rhymes with eyes).
hooligans, young criminals.  Slang.
mucker, china, mate
all words for a friend.  Slang (china plate is rhyming slang for mate)
12 moons ago
12 nights ago.
blessed Jack
Jack the Ripper.  An infamous killer who stalked the streets of London.
went so humble 'bout his nightly graft
went so quietly doing his job (killing women).
how it chanced
how it happened that.
the deadly poison of each other's eye
enemies of each other
clocked the bird
looked at the girl.  Slang.
legendary knockers
large breasts.  Slang.
I doth take it double strong
I took offence.
insulting name for someone. Slang.
face.  Slang.
Hoxton, Tottenham, Bethnal Green, Hornsey Town, Poplar, Islington
areas of London.
policemen.  Slang (based on the blue police uniforms)
a weapon.
egging us on
encouraging us.
Nut him
head butt him. Slang.
insulting name for someone. Slang.
anoint the cunt with death
let him  know what death is like.
insulting name for someone. Slang.
you. Deliberately old-fashioned.
gives you the collywobbles
makes you feel excited and afraid. Slang.
my blessed boat
my face. Slang.
to stop the Tiber
to stop the flow of blood (the Tiber is the name of a river).
have it away, before the law does mark us as accessory
get away before the police think we were part of the crime.
we slosh
we walk. Slang.
let' s scarper now
let's run away now. Slang.
let' s piss off
let's go away. Slang.
looking like what they hang up at Smithfields
Smithfields is a meat market, so they look like the meat hung up there.
rosy red
blood. Slang.
conk out
die. Slang.
into the casualty at Charring Cross
into the emergency hospital at Charring Cross (part of London).
to venge some deadly feud/ from bygone days
to get revenge/ from long ago.
the two of us got as thick as thieves... stewed too long
we became very good friends.  Slang.
bitch, slag
insulting names for a woman. Slang.
Scene Two

In a mime sequence Mike comes to meet Sylv and her parents.  Sylv is attracted to Les and a fight breaks out.


Vocabulary ---


Scene Three Sylv's long speech.

She tells how Les and Mike fight for her, but also how her clothes get covered in blood.  She is flattered by the violence.


jesting-jousting... tournament
knights in armour fought (jousted) in competitions (tournaments).
mimicking an oil well
the blood is gushing like an oil well.
never shall the suds of Persil or Daz remove
Persil or Daz are washing powders.  She will never be able to remove the blood from her skirt.
rude name for a man. Slang.
before I ram a knuckle sandwich in thy painted boat
before I hit you with a fist (knuckle sandwich) in your face (painted boat).
MG Sprite
a make of car.
hold a morsel back girls so he'll crave it all the more
don't give him everything (sex) so he will want it even more.


Scene Four Dad, Mum, Les

Dad's monologue.  He talks of the old days, when fascists fought in the streets of London.

dad in East


battle of Cable Street
a confrontation between fascist supporters and left-wing supporters in to 1930s.
Hawaii Five-O, Panorama, Ironside, The Saint
television series.
Schonberg's Moses and Aron
a performance of an opera on television.  Mum confuses it with an epic film starring Charlton Heston.
name for a man. Slang.
you haven't paid the licence
the television licence has to be paid every year.
suppose they come around
what if they come around to check about the television licence.
Hackney Gazette
local newspaper.
detector vans
vans with people checking whether people are watching television, so that non-payers can be caught.
you think they are on to your tail
you think they are after you.
Christmas money
families could buy Christmas goods on credit, and the person chasing the Christmas money is looking for repayment.
toilet.  Slang.
uttering such dreadful libels
telling such dreadful lies.
insulting name for a woman. Slang.
untimely ripped from thou mother's womb
comes from Shakespeare's Macbeth.
insulting name for a homosexual.  Slang.
Ozzie Mosley
Oswald Mosley, a British fascist leader in the 1930s.  Slang.
brown shirts
the fascists wore brown shirts.
long-nosed gits
insulting name for Jews.
insulting name for Jews.
England's green and pleasant, the land where Jesus set his foot
from Jerusalem, a patriotic English song.
Hebrew gold
Jewish financial influence.
Christian soldiers
from a Christian song.
a television series.
Scene Five A mime scene set in a cinema.

Berkoff's East

a sentimental film (which makes you weep)
a cowboy film.
Scene Six Mike and Sylv.

Mike seduces Sylv, and after an initial rejection, wins her over.


Cock and Bull
a pub.
a drink.
a larf
a laugh, a joke.
insulting name for a man.  Slang.
each square inch a raincoat's fantasy
she is so beautiful she is what men (men in raincoats) dream of.
the fire you use to stoke the old wife's stoves
what you are dreaming of when making love to your wife.
sag not
her breasts are young and firm.
tight box, plumbing perfect
she has a beautiful body, suited for sex.  Slang.
thy flesh would ne'er move- would shrink under my glare
your penis would not move, would become smaller, when I look at you in anger.
my Johnny tool
my penis.  Slang.
I'll descend on thee like a moon probe... swamps
like a moon rocket exploring a planet, he will explore and enter her body.
and make thee view the sight that made Penelope mad
and show you my erection.  In classical mythology Penelope kept rejecting suitors
the girth of a Cyclops
In classical mythology Cyclops were giants.  Mike is boasting of the size of his penis.
Atilla the Hun, a fearsome warrior.
the length of an ass
Mike is boasting of the size of his penis, comparing it with an asses.
the stamina of a Greek
Mike is boasting his sexual ability, comparing himself with ancient Greek athletes.
the form of Michelangelo's David
Mike is comparing the shape of his penis that of David in the classical Greek statue.
the piston power of the Flying Scotsman
The Flying Scotsman was a train.  Mike is comparing his sexual strength with the power of a train.
as rich in the goodies as the Tiber bursting its banks
Mike compares his sperm with the power of the river Tiber.
Bertorelli's ice-cream
a brand of ice-cream.


Scene Seven Sylv.

Sylv's longing speech.  She thinks of how much freedom males have compared with females and she realises if she acted as badly as them, they would see her as a slut and reject her.


a fellow, a male.  Slang.
finger (the smallest finger).
impale them with an impertinent and fixed stare
ogle at the women.
hand in Levi-Strauss
hand in pockets of jeans, looking nonchalant.
insulting term for males.  Slang.
cave mouths
large shouting mouths.
insulting terms for a woman.  Slang.
to Persil out his scummy lust
to wash out sperm stains.  Persil is a brand of washing powder (it is also mentioned in scene 3)
johnny tool
to dip my wick
to insert my penis.  Slang.
sperm.  Slang.
let me have pectorals instead of boobs
let me have muscles instead of breasts.  Slang.
sown his wild oats
lived a wild life.  Slang.
the sack in bed is parlering for another cup of rosy
the man in bed is asking for another cup of tea.  Slang.
sexually molested.  Slang.


Scene Eight Part mime.

Les is in office and molests one of the secretaries.  The scene moves to Mum, Dad and Sylv happy on the beach.  As the stage directions say "the scenes of fun... delicately indicating Les' sense of isolation".


five bob
five shillings.
given too little money back by shopkeepers.


Scene Nine Les, then Les and Mike.

Les's Tale of Woe.  He is lonely and tells of his existence working in a clothes shop.  This is a very autobiographical scene, Berkoff also worked in a clothes shop.


sup on porridge
eat porridge.
starts pianissimo and build (stage directions)
starts very quietly then build up.
a bit of clobbering
some fighting.
girl-friend.  Slang.
sometimes you would pull
sometimes you would pick up a female.
gave it a bit of chat
tried to seduce.  Slang.
jail bait
young sexually attractive girl who is too young for legal sex, so the consequences for the male would be jail.  Slang.
Irish navvies
labourers, workmen.
bunged them whatever size we had in stock
sold them whatever was in the shop, even if it was the wrong size.
fifty bob
fifty shillings, the price of the shirts.
Fu Manchu
a character from comics and later films.
two gobs of phlegm
two mouthfuls of spit.
Y-front pants
type of underwear.
Yeah it fits you beeauutiful
the accent is stereotype Jewish.
insulting term for a woman.  Slang.
Beau Brummel
a fashionable person.  The "deceased testament to Beau Brummel" means that people  are trying but failing to be fashionable by coming into the shop.
Hickory Dock
clock.  Slang.
the gelt I had half-inched
the money I had stolen from the shop.  Slang.
cigarette.  Slang.
policemen.  Slang.
thick fingers (not made for Chopin's Etudes)
fingers too thick to play the piano.
harbingers of death
people bringing bad news.
offensive term for a woman.  Slang.
got her off the hook
she was found not guilty.  Slang.
sessions of paid lash
sadism with a prostitute.
our imaginations as foul as Vulcan's stithy
from Hamlet by Shakespeare.
a player who struts...
from Macbeth by Shakespeare.


Scene Ten

Mum's point of view.   Mum looks at her life which is boring her.  She dreams of a cultured life.

Mum and Dad in East

Hawaii Five-O etc
television series.
cigarettes.  Slang.
light and bitter
bingo... clickety click
a game mainly for old women together.  Clickety click is one of the expressions used.
Reg Varney
television actor.
Green Shield stamps
stamps given out by shops to save up for gifts.
who's running at Epson
Epson is a horse racecourse.
Tippet's sonata... Terry Riley
she fantasises she is a classical pianist giving performances for the BBC.
pick up my percolator at the Green Shields shop
a coffee percolator was one of the gifts you could get with Green Shield stamps- stamps given out by shops as a reward for customers.
Walls's sausages... flour"
famous food brands.
Gertrude Stein, a friend of writer Ernest Hemmingway.
shut you gob
shut your mouth, be quiet.  Slang.
can't ya let me bleeding sleep
let me sleep.


Scene Eleven Mike and Les.

Les talks of a bus journey which ends with him seeing a beautiful woman he knew he could never have.


imbiber of thy resin
swallows your sperm.
North and South
mouth.  Rhyming slang (North and South rhyme with mouth).
loaded off her box
had sex with.  Slang.
prostitute.  Slang
get to a nunnery
from Shakespeare's Hamlet.
the 38
bus number 38.
Shaftsbury Avenue Jesus Christ
Jesus Christ Superstar was performed in the Palace Theatre on Shaftsbury Avenue, London for eight years.
I was a go go dancer in a Saigon brothel
cinemas in Soho show sex films.
offensive term for a black person.  Slang
skiving in the betting shop
instead of working they are betting.
Angel... Joe Lyons
Angel Islington is part of London.  Lyons was a chain of coffee shops.
cup of rosy
cup of tea.
cinema chain.
beautiful sexy girl.  Slang.
classy snatch
snatch is slang for women.  Classy snatch are women too beautiful and sophisticated to be interested in Les.
we pull slags
we seduce ugly women.
it tumbled... it dropped... the dirty penny
the penny drops means someone starts to understand something (from fairground games when a penny drops in a slot then the mechanism starts working).
legs.  Rhyming slang.


Scene Twelve Mike and Les.  Lots of mime.

Les felt trapped after his bus journey.  They talk of the freedom of a bike, passing other cars and impressing rich women in chauffeur driven cars.

Then Mike takes Les on a motorbike ride to free his spirit.  The scene is done as mime, Mike is the bike (arms wide out as handlebars) and Mike rides on the motorbike.

motorbike in East

motorcycle in East

Harley Davidson etc
types of motorbike.
ape hangers
on a bike with high handlebars hanging on is like an ape hanging on to a tree.
with apes
the classy bikes have lower handlebars so you don't hang like an ape.
between my thighs I grip her tight
he has the same thrill from a bike as from a woman.
Volkswagen cars.
ponces and hairdressers
insulting terms for middle class young men.
grievous bodily harm, police term for violence against other people.
Stop James
a chauffeur might be called James.
North and South
mouth.  Rhyming slang


Scene Thirteen Dad, Mum, Sylv, Les, Mike

The first lines repeat those of Scene 8.  Dad romanticises over the past.


soft drink.
detention centre of Borstal
prison for young offenders.
insulting term for Jews.
what a gall
what a disgrace.
sleep.  Slang.
Vera Lynn
singer popular for patriotic songs during World War Two.
an insult.
what a larf we had
what a laugh we had, we had fun.
sexual disease.
brand of cigarettes


Scene Fourteen Mum and Dad

A short scene played for laughs, showing the shallowness of their lives.


Vocabulary ---
Scene Fifteen Mum's Lament

Mum tells of when she went to a cinema and in the darkness the man beside her starts fondling her sexually.  When the lights come on she discovers it was her son Mike.


was sat?
what was that?


Scene Sixteen Les and Mike

Les's Speech A Night Out.

In a dance hall Sylv and Les dance.   A fight breaks up the dancing, and Les and Mike come in after a fight.  Les talks of sad lonely sexual encounters.


a dance hall.
Ted Heath
a joke about Ted Heath the dance band leader, Ted Heath the prime minister, and Heath a murderer.
Dicky Valentine
a popular singer.
Johnny Ray
a singer.
a slim Jim
slim and fashionably dressed.
Donegal tweed
DB lapels
collars for a double breasted (DB) suit.
when we were geary
when we were fashionable.
you need wheels
you need a car or a bike.
J. Arthur
masturbation.  Rhyming slang (J. Arthur Rank, a film company, and wank, to masturbate).
a knife.
jugular vein.  He uses a knife to force her to masturbate him.


Scene Seventeen Mike's cunt speech.

In comparison with Les's sorry tale, Mike celebrates sex.




Scene Eighteen Les, Mike and Sylv.

In mime, Sylv accepts Mike over Les.




Scene Nineteen Mike and Les, then Sylv

The scene echoes the first scene, proving symmetry and signally to the audience that the play is playing to its end.

Sylv shows she is the one who has ambition and want to escape from the world she is in.  She does not want to end up like Mum and Dad.  Mike and Les seem to accept their world, and end with the words from the first scene "Now you know our names".


the brothers Kray, Reg
Reg and Ronnie Kray were London gangsters, each sentenced to life imprisonment.  Berkoff knew them, and Berkoff later acted in the film The Krays
a knocking shop
a brothel.
the Richardsons
Charlie Richardson was another London gangster.  Berkoff also later acted in a film about him, Charlie.


Berkoff East

Photos from the DVD of East, directed by Berkoff.


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