Renowned English playwright, actor and film villain Steven Berkoff discusses An Actor’s Lament

This article is from 2013

Berkoff's Bite

The play, which satirises the acting profession, is being staged at the 2013 Edinburgh Fringe

How scathing is An Actor’s Lament? Is it quite critical of the industry?
It’s a highly critical, scathing, bilious, vitriolic, satiric, barbaric [play]. This is what actors feel backstage about many things that they have to do, there are various hurdles they have to go through before they eventually get on the stage. Actors are always feeding on their emotions [and] will take everything a bit more seriously.

Have you been using genuine incidences that you remember from your career or are you playing with stereotypes?

No, I don’t really stereotype, they’re all based on actual experience, all of it. It’s just about things that are germane to all performers: having to deal with directors who don’t know what they’re doing and who come and see you after the play’s on, maybe once, twice, then you never see them again. So it’s a lot to do with that. [And] a lot to do with the last half a century; actors have lost their position in the theatre completely whereas once, if you aged as an actor, automatically you became a director. Years ago you had people like Laurence Olivier and John Gielgud running theatres and directing. Now maybe one in a hundred actors is directing. I think that’s a huge loss to the industry.

You’ve said in the past that Edinburgh can be refreshing because it is more of an actor-led festival, do you feel that still?
Absolutely, yes I think it is. Most people who come to Edinburgh, from what I’ve seen in the past, are actors: actors making their own shows and directing their own shows and I always see a much more interesting play. I think Edinburgh is a fantastic platform for the performer.

An Actor’s Lament is mainly about the theatre but have you drawn on characters you have met in the film industry too?
Oh, I talk a lot about film and the contrast between film and theatre. That comes into several of the speeches and how the theatre has been totally ruined by film actors who kind of dip their toe onto the stage. The producers want a bit of a box office hit but unfortunately [the actors] haven’t had the training, or the strength, or the vocal chords to do it. All that comes into it, so it really is a blast at the way that theatre has succumbed to a corrosive effect and in a way lost some of its great power.

And is there a chance people in the audience might recognise some of the characters you are playing?
I don’t think so. They’ll recognise the type absolutely, including my own. I hope the actors that see it will celebrate it.

Is this a provocative piece? Do you hope to generate a reaction?
Oh it will generate a reaction but it’s not provocative in the sense of being offensive or abusive. It’s really a satire on people, on themselves and what they think, so it’s not just on their opinions, it’s on the people themselves.

An Actor’s Lament by Steven Berkoff, Assembly Hall, 623 3030, 3 Aug–20 Aug (not 5, 12), £18–£20 (£16–£18). Previews 1 & 2 Aug, £12.

Actor's Lament

  • 3 stars

Assembly. Steven Berkoff stars with Jay Benedict and Andree Bernard in this glimpse backstage, lifting the curtain on the bizarre and often hilarious world of theatre. From precious playwrights and dictator directors to the good will (or otherwise) of the critics - a maze of thickets the actor must negotiate before they…