On The Waterfront
Stylish re-imagining of a screen classic
This article is from 2008.
The English National Theatre didn't know what to do with this project: a stage adaptation of the Budd Schulberg-scripted film that cemented Marlon Brando's status as the actor of his generation and scooped eight Oscars. Never one to shy away from a challenge, Steven Berkoff has created an affectionate homage to the screen classic, while moulding it to his own distinctive, anti-naturalistic style.
The director neatly circumnavigates the conundrum of adapting a social realist movie about mob violence and corruption, filmed on location in East Coast dockland, by completely eschewing cumbersome props and scenery in favour of precise, physical ensemble playing and beautiful expressionistic lighting. Simon Merrells gives a particularly compelling, nuanced performance as longshoreman Terry Molloy, torn between the mob and his love for the campaigning sister of a murdered colleague, referencing Brando's mannerisms and Method mumble without allowing his portrayal to slip into caricature. If the burgeoning love between Terry and Edie gets a bit lost on the vast stage at the Pleasance Grand, the pivotal scene in the taxi, in which Terry gives his 'I coulda been a contender' speech, is gripping and moving. And the production truly comes alive in the scenes where the ensemble performs as a single unit, bringing bars, docks, even a pigeon coop to vivid life, using only their bodies and voices.
Pleasance Courtyard, 556 6550, until 25 Aug (not 12, 19), 2pm, £10–£15.