Sunday, 10 February 2013

Steven Berkoff Theatre Technique

Berkoff is a British practitioner whose career has spanned from 1965 to today.
His physical, exaggerated style of theatre is both popular and controversial, defying the norms of naturalistic theatre.

In his productions East and West, Berkoff used the Shakespearean style of language to create an complexity but pairing it with “low” cockney slang and swearing. Complex language that an audience has to focus means they rely on actions to understand the plot. This enhances Berkoff’s physical style.
Shakespearean language benefits physical movement as it provides images to work from. In his adaptation of Coriolanus, Berkoff uses mime to show the attack on the gates of Rome that is referred to in the script but not the play. Language does not have to be included in the performance to be shown. Berkoff said of Shakespeare that he wanted to “evoke and resignify[1] the language of Shakespeare through movement and modern slang. 
Berkoff often left rejected ensemble acting in favour of one or two-man shows. Most notably, Berkoff performed in Decadence along side Joan Collins in a play that mocked the lives of the upper class.
In Decadence we see much of Berkoff’s technique manifested. His mime; exaggerated movement, facial expressions and accents; his use of monologue and dialogue; and intra-dialogic stage directions are all present. 

Berkoffian actors use techniques such as background movement, repetitive actions, and mime to explore further the ways in which Berkoff approaches exchanges between two characters.  Berkoff said that it was important “to see how I could bring mime together with the spoken word as its opposite partner, creating the form and structure of the piece”[2]. T
For monologues we can draw on the material from East and West in which the two main characters use monologue to tell a story. Berkoff ensured that although they were long, they were not devoid of action and they were very physical performances.

Berkoff’s approach to theatre is incredibly physical. Kenneth Reah titled an article, “Like smoking, naturalism can damage your health[3] which sums up Berkoff’s approach to naturalistic theatre. His style is non-naturalistic, often focusing on movement rather that voice. According to him, the only purpose of a script is to help “minimalise and physicalise[4] the story; stripping it down to its most basic components.
The theory of Total Theatre is key to Berkoff and stemmed from Artaud’s theatre style. Total Theatre maintains that every aspect of theatre must have purpose: every movement, that is choreographed; to each line, that is learned perfectly; to each lighting effect, that is used to convey a mood or message; to each sound effect, that enhances the audience’s experience; to each prop that has a use. The aim of Total Theatre is to create extreme moods to give the audience an overwhelming experience and to shock, amuse, scare, or amaze them. Berkoff particularly embraced this in his Kafka adaptations such as Metamorphosis, The Trial and In the Penal Colony. As a result of Total Theatre, performances are often minimalist, with bare stages and little language so that the focus remains on the physical movement and not on all the effects or the creation of a scene. This serves to detach the audience from the play and make them think about what was being said.

[1] Steven Berkoff and the Theatre of Self Performance (Robert Cross, 2004, Manchester University Press)
(page 139) note: not a direct quote, correct quote: “evoking and resignifying”
[2] : ‘Creating the “Berkovian” Aesthetic’ by Craig Rosen, Ph.D. (2000)
[3] : ‘Creating the “Berkovian” Aesthetic’ by Craig Rosen, Ph.D. (2000)
[4]Steven Berkoff and the Theatre of Self Performance (Robert Cross, 2004, Manchester University Press) (page 115) 


  1. Thank you for posting this! Found it very useful in my revision

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  3. Thankyou for this. Were doing Berkoff for our year 9 theatre study and this really helped me C:

  4. Replies
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    2. Devon? You're doing your revision! Well done. :)

  5. Thank you so much coursework deadline tomorrow this was a great help <3

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  7. Thanks For sharing this Superb article. I use this Article to show my assignment in college. it is useful For me Great Work.
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  8. Thank you for this article it has really helped with my work. It explains everything really well, a lot better than the websites that my course recommends.

  9. You haven't explained what the different techniques are. Yes you mentioned them but not explained. Not helpful.

  10. What did Berkoff want his audience to feel/ think towards the play though? What did he want them to think after the play