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Elegy for the East End and its energetic waste
in the Traverse Theatre by the London Theatre Group as
part of the Edinburgh Festival.
characters who double as a chorus: Dad, Mum, Sylv, Les,
Mum is typically played by a male in drag.
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.
chairs at the back of the stage. Sometimes a table
is brought on-stage.
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
| 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
| Scene 12
The motorbike mime.
| Scene 13
Dad's Soliloquy for happier
| 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.
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.
- East End
- the East End of London.
- criminal hall of fame
- when suspected criminals or prisoners are
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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.
a mime sequence Mike comes to meet Sylv and her
parents. Sylv is attracted to Les and a fight
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
- 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
- rude name for a man. Slang.
- before I ram a knuckle sandwich in thy painted
- 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
- don't give him everything (sex) so he will
want it even more.
Dad's monologue. He talks of the
old days, when fascists fought in the streets of London.
- 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
- name for a man. Slang.
- you haven't paid the licence
- the television licence has to be paid every
- suppose they come around
- what if they come around to check about the
- Hackney Gazette
- local newspaper.
- detector vans
- vans with people checking whether people are
watching television, so that non-payers can be
- 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
- 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.
mime scene set in a cinema.
- a sentimental film (which makes you weep)
- a cowboy film.
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
- what you are dreaming of when making love to
- sag not
- her breasts are young and firm.
- tight box, plumbing perfect
- she has a beautiful body, suited for
- thy flesh would ne'er move- would shrink under
- 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...
- like a moon rocket exploring a planet, he will
explore and enter her body.
- and make thee view the sight that made
- 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
- 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
- as rich in the goodies as the Tiber bursting
- Mike compares his sperm with the power of the
- Bertorelli's ice-cream
- a brand of ice-cream.
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
- 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
- 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.
- sown his wild oats
- lived a wild life. Slang.
- the sack in bed is parlering for another cup
- the man in bed is asking for another cup of
- sexually molested. Slang.
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.
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.
- 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.
point of view. Mum looks at her life which is
boring her. She dreams of a cultured life.
- 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
- 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
- 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
- shut you gob
- shut your mouth, be quiet. Slang.
- can't ya let me bleeding sleep
- let me sleep.
Les talks of a bus journey which ends
with him seeing a beautiful woman he knew he could never
- 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
- 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
- legs. Rhyming slang.
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
- 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
- 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
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
A short scene played for laughs,
showing the shallowness of their lives.
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?
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
- a dance hall.
- Ted Heath
- a joke about Ted Heath the dance band leader,
Ted Heath the prime minister, and Heath a
- 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,
- a knife.
- jugular vein. He uses a knife to force
her to masturbate him.
In comparison with Les's sorry
tale, Mike celebrates sex.
Mike and Sylv.
In mime, Sylv accepts Mike over
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.
Photos from the DVD of East, directed by