STARK BUT TRUE DAY BY THE SEASIDEJonathan Morris, The Argus, 23td October 1991
Playwright Steven Berkoff doesn’t often allow his plays to be directed by other people.
Nevertheless, he will be happy with the world premier of Brighton Beach Scumbags, under the directorship of his long-time acolyte George Dillon.
The play was inspired by a visit to Brighton seafront when Berkoff came across a family from Chingford.
First the play savages the homophobia of two Chingford couples, who on their day trip to the “Caribbean of England,” discover that their favourite drinking hole has turned into a gay bar.
But Berkoff also takes a well-aimed swipe at militant gays and their heterophobia.
No one gets out unscathed in this typically Berkoffian rude, raunchy, ribald but sadly true-to-life account of a day by the seaside.
And it bodes very well for future productions from the newly created Brighton-based Theatre Events team.
Brighton Beach Scumbags is something of a collector’s item — a new play by Steven Berkoff, premiered outside London, and not directed by the author (who is presently otherwise engaged at the Garrick).Mick Martin, THE GUARDIAN, 29 October 1991
However, this is very much a Brighton play, being produced by Brighton director and actor George Dillon, who has worked extensively with Berkoff and whose own recent one-man show was hailed as more Berkoff than Berkoff himself.
The play does not so much tell a story as dissect a situation. Two ghastly couples from Chingford are down for the day, their favourite watering hole has been turned into a gay bar, and they don’t like the way two particular gay men looked at them when they tried to order a drink.
In an over-long first act they sit in deckchairs, drink beer, parade their ignorance and mull over the incident. In a short second act they meet their presumed tormentors again.
There is little in the way of action or development (though the action, when it does come, is well handled by Dillon), but much inarticulate aggression and unspoken fear. The script trades superficial humour with underlying menace to some effect, but lacks the gut-wrenching power of Berkoff at his best.
Even if you accept that he is not dealing in narrative, the gay couple is inadequately integrated into the drama, and too often Berkoff strays perilously close to crossing the fine line between attacking stereotypes and reinforcing them.
Nevertheless Dillon and his committed cast respond positively to the spirit of the piece. The Chingford visitors are well sustained seaside postcard creations, and the director skilfully marshals mime, sound, lights, stylised speech patterns, exaggerated movement and silence in the construction of an abrasive but poetic theatrical language.
At its best this proves capable of giving uncomfortable physical expression to the characters’ prejudice, suspicion and insensitivity — and by extension to the repugnant underbelly of a divided society.