By Steven Berkoff
On his thirtieth birthday, the chief cashier of a bank, Josef K., is unexpectedly arrested by two unidentified agents from an unspecified agency for an unspecified crime. Berkoff was teaching at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art and needed a piece for twenty students, so he turned to Kafka’s novel and workshopped it. Berkoff says “Kafka expressed me as I expressed Kafka. His words stung and hung in my brain”. In the premiere in the Oval House, London 1970, Berkoff played the role of the painter Titorelli
“It was eight o’clock/ the city came to life/ Someone must have been lying about Joseph K:” and so K finds himself arrested and awaiting trial but has no idea why. And K will never find out why, he sinks deeper and deeper and flails trying to escape. The play does convey the doom, but does it with great humour, physical theatre and mime making K’s despair and hopelessness absurdist and funny to watch.
Steven Berkoff was born in Stepney, London in 1937. He studied drama in London and mime in Paris under Jacques Lecoq before forming his own theatre company, London Theatre Group in 1968. His early plays included a series of adaptations of novels by Franz Kafka including Metamorphosis and The Trial. He has also adapted works by Edgar Allen Poe, Oscar Wilde, Aeschylus and Shakespeare. His own plays include East, West, Decadence, Scenes from a Crucifixion, The Secret Love Life of Ophelia, Sink The Belgrano and Brighton Beach Scumbags. He has also toured a series of one man shows such as One Man and Shakespeare’s Villains around the globe.
On screen Steven Berkoff is best known for a series of villains in films as diverse as A Clockwork Orange, Octopussy, Rambo II and The Krays. Over the course of his career he has been awarded multiple honours including, The Evening Standard Theatre Award for Best Comedy (Kvetch 1991), the first Total Theatre Lifetime Achievement Award and in 1998 he was nominated for a The Society of London Theatre’s Laurence Olivier Award for Best Entertainment for his one-man show Shakespeare’s Villains. In 1999, the 25th-anniversary revival of the play East, directed by Berkoff, received the Stage Award for Best Ensemble work at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. The Berkoff Performing Arts Centre at Alton College, Hampshire, is named afterhim and he is now an officially recognised theatre practitioner who appears on A Level exam board specifications. Finally Berkoff has written extensively about his work in such books as Meditations on Metamorphosis.
“All over the UK, the performing arts links people with a shared humanity as a way to open the doors to the mysteries of life. We should never underestimate the power of the theatre. It educates, informs, enlightens and humanises us all.” Steven Berkoff
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