Highly acclaimed English actor, playwright, author and director Steven Berkoff continues to set the benchmark in stunning, intense performances on both stage and screen.
Steven Berkoff was born in Stepney, London. After studying drama and mime in London and Paris, he entered a series of repertory companies, and in 1968 formed the London Theatre Group. Among the many adaptations Berkoff has created for the stage (directed and toured) are Kafka’s Metamorphosis and The Trial, Agamemnon (after Aeschylus), and Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher. He has directed and toured productions of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus (also playing the title role), Richard II, Hamlet, and Macbeth, as well as Oscar Wilde’s Salome, which was performed by The Gate Theatre, Dublin, during the 1990 season of Spoleto Festival USA. Berkoff’s original stage plays include East, West, Messiah: Scenes from a Crucifixion, The Secret Love Life of Ophelia, Decadence, Harry’s Christmas, Massage, Acapulco, Brighton Beach Scumbags, and Six Actors in Search of a Director. He has performed his trilogy of solo shows—One Man, Shakespeare’s Villains, and Requiem for Ground Zero—in venues all over the world.
Mainstream film fans are probably most familiar with Berkoff via his portrayal of a trio of ice-cold villains in several big budget Hollywood productions of the 1980s: a rogue general plotting to launch a war in Europe in Octopussy (1983), a drug smuggling art dealer out to kill Detroit narcotics officer Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop (1984), and a sadistic Russian commando officer torturing Sylvester Stallone in Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985). He also directed and co-starred with Joan Collins in the film version of Decadence and recently appeared in The Tourist with Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie, and in David Fincher’s Girl with a Dragon Tattoo.
As a director, Berkoff is renowned for highly stylized, expressionistic physical theater. His adaptation of Oedipus, which has its American premiere at the 2013 Festival, is an outstanding example of an approach that is as much art installation as theatrical presentation. Nottingham Playhouse Theatre Company, who brought A Burial at Thebes to the 2008 Festival, presents Oedipus under Berkoff’s own direction. It is rare for audiences to have the opportunity to see the work of such a major artist as the artist himself envisions it without the filter of another director’s vision.
In a recent interview, Berkoff talked about the Oedipus project:
Why this play?
Berkoff: I’ve always been drawn to epic stories, stories that deal with life and death, universal themes that affect all of mankind. Oedipus is the crowning glory for anyone seeking to create theatre, who wants to use a theatre as a place to heighten our understanding of the human condition—not a place to sit and see someone standing behind a kitchen sink washing dishes.
What is the most challenging part of this project?
Berkoff: Oedipus is an immensely tough and challenging text. The actor who plays Oedipus must bring great boldness to his performance but also connect with the audience so that we follow his descent into despair. This is tough for the actor and the piece as it is all too easy to rant and rave and roam about the stage needlessly. The key is find stillness and focus and trust the audience to come with you.
How is this piece relevant for audiences of today?
Berkoff: The human condition seeks knowledge, truth, understanding, and—ultimately—power. We seek to control and avoid our own fate at all costs. What drives this desire and our need to solve it is as relevant today as ever. Oedipus is the great experiment in the attempt to control our destiny—he failed, but we continue to try.
(Reprinted with permission of Nottingham Playhouse and Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse.)
The American premiere of Nottingham Playhouse Theatre Company’s production of Steven Berkoff’s Oedipus will be presented at Memminger Auditorium from June 4 – 8.
On Sunday, June 2, at 3:30pm, CBS News correspondent Martha Teichner interviews Steven Berkoff at the Charleston Library Society, 164 King Street.