Steven Berkoff



  • (1937 - ) British playwright, actor, and director, whofounded (1968) the London Theatre Group. His early work with the companyincluded several adaptations of Franz Kafka, notably Metamorphosis(1969), which Berkoff staged using a striking variety of techniques, includingmime and acrobatics. The play was subsequently (1989) taken to Broadwayand is regularly revived by Berkoff at the Edinburgh Festival.

    Berkoff's first completely original play, East (1975),used blank verse and the trappings of high tragedy to depict lifein London's East End; it was successfully transferred to the NationalTheatre. In Greek (1979) he gave a feminist twist to the Oedipusmyth, while in West (1983) he used the Beowulf story to attackthe British class system. His other plays of the 1980s included Decadence(1981), Sink the Belgrano! (1986), which invoked Shakespeare'sHenry V to comment on a controversial incident during the Falklands War,and Kvetch (1987), a comedy about a neurotic Jewish salesman.Massage (1997) saw Berkoff appearing in drag, while Messiah(2000) was a re-examination of the Easter story. The uncharacteristically gentle Sit and Shiver (2006) drew directly on his own experience ofJewish family life in the old East End. As a profitable sideline, Berkoffhas capitalized on his somewhat menacing appearance to play villains in a seriesof Hollywood films, notably the James Bond movie Octopussy (1983).

    Berkoff's intensely physical and never knowingly understatedform of theater has found both admirers and detractors. His own contemptfor the critics emerges vividly from Free Association (1996), a memoir.That same year he set a legal precedent by successfully suing the journalistJulie Burchill, who had described him as "hideously ugly".