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Hexagon - Shakespeare's Villains

18th March 2003.

This was the NWN review.

It takes one to know one

Steven Berkoff Shakespeare's Villains, A Masterclass in Evil, at The Hexagon, on Tuesday, March 18

Steven Berkoff is known throughout the world as an actor, writer and director with a line in villainous parts in film and theatre, so it seems fitting that his one-man show finds him probing into the psyche of the playwright's leading villains and stabbing a satirical finger at an actor's life.

This accessible, vibrant and very physical performance is an examination and breakdown of Shakespeare's infamous evil characters - Iago, the Macbeths, Shylock (a contentious choice), Richard III and Coriolanus. Richard, a career villain with no war to fight, has to look at other ways of passing the time unlike Lady Macbeth who is demonstrably malevolent.

Yet there are others whose situation leads them to evil deeds and those at the mercy of an evil society.

Berkoff's analysis of Hamlet, not an obvious candidate, explores how the naive son 'down' from university manages in two-and-a-half hours to instigate the deaths of half-a-dozen people including some fairly innocent ones like Polonius, killed for being 'too busy'.

His thesis is that there are as many types of villainy as personalities so maybe that's why he finished, I thought confusingly, on A Midsummer Night's Dream's 'bucolic' Oberon, a king not averse to drugging Titania in order to get his own way. 'Sort of thing they do in LA' adds Berkoff.

However, it is not all 'lit crit', with the second act offering a view of how the ghosts of 'acting greats' shape our perceptions of character.

Try exorcising Olivier's Richard or more lately the fascistic Macbeth of McKellan. 'The streets of London are littered with the corpses of dead actors attempting to break out' notes Berkoff.

Furthermore, political sensibility in modern fainthearted theatre now attempts to constrain our reading of the text, exemplified by recent expurgations of The Merchant of Venice's more controversial lines.

Shakespeare's Villains is a hybrid of comic stand-up and academic insight with Berkoff's bold corporeal presence and thespian histrionics tempered by an off-the-cuff lecture style.

A use of mime, impersonation and sheer stage presence added polish to a superb presentation. Overall, a performance that was insightful and thought provoking, maybe maddening yet still entertainingly witty.