Decadence: Reviews

NOT TO BE missed on any account (though it is happening, only for four more nights at Contact’s unlovely Brickhouse) Decadence is an absolute breath of fresh air, a tonic, a joy.
Written by the entertainingly vituperative Steven Berkoff, it is yet another furiously accurate exercise on the bitter subject of the haves and the have-nots. Berkoff’s savage humour, sharp eye for detail, violent honesty, and most of all the way he plays with language, are here deployed to wonderful effect.
His easy-meat target is the British upper crust: public-school Steve and spoilt girlfriend Helen. In contrast are the working-class wronged wife, Sybil, and the tragic Les, her hired private dick (in every sense of the word I am afraid).
But for the steady stream of obscenity and the brutality of his attitudes, one could almost plant Berkoff in one of those sweet little volumes of narrative poetry. You catch the soothing rhythms of, say, Martin Armstrong’s Miss Thompson Goes Shopping, in Berkoff’s roaring monologues. Like Steve’s tirade on the joys and horrors of getting pissed: “And the next thing you espy/is the lav staring you in the eye”. It is a strange way to write, but it is also very very stimulating and funny.
And this production is exceptional. The the two of them together are overwhelming.
Their twin cruelty and fascism is so vividly conjured up: her cashmere gown, “gathered from the bellies of baby goats”; the Rabelaisian orgy of eating that follows an opera they do not understand; the pair refusing milk-fed box-imprisoned baby veal – and crab “dying In a boiling scream”, but opting for everything else to the point of vomit.

Irene McManus, THE GUARDIAN, 25 January 1984

AS GROTESQUE and distorted as a Gerald Scarfe cartoon, Steven Berkoff’s outlook on life and the great divide between the classes is a bleak one.
His flat, monochrome vision of both sides of society was superbly portrayed by the talented pair who make up the “No Alternative” Company.
George Dillon and Denise Evans performed last night’s production with a minimum of props – just a white settee, a black backcloth and themselves.
Alternating between the tableaux of an ex-public school lout with his kept mistress, and his wife who entertains herself at home with a hired private detective, the pair savagely conveyed a parody of British life and its social divisions.
Split-second timing and an impeccable sense of the humorous made this a black comedy I could laugh at while remaining uncomfortably aware of myself in several shades within the play.
Ultimately there are no answers provided by this satire because the conclusion is drawn that when it comes to life we are all decadently the same.

Carol Lamb, HULL DAILY MAIL, 29 October 1984

ABOUT 20 people walked out of Steven Berkoff’s Decadence at the Bolton Octagon last night.
They were goaded no doubt by the vivid four-letter language and the send-up of right-wing attitudes.
Berkoff, in the cause of “realism” uses exactly the vocabulary that some people use when they’ve had far too much to drink and the whole of his 90 minute drama, performed by two people on a white sofa, aims to provoke its audience by being wickedly accurate and, at times, extremely witty.
It’s about the elitist upper crust rich, viewed mercilessly as they pour gourmet food down their throats, chase illicit sex and burst into xenophobic racist rantings (it was the latter, incidentally, which emptied most seats as virtually everyone accepted the first 70 minutes of hard, core language).
One of the play’s best moments is a Betjeman parody of a lady fox hunter, riding astride her panting horse as she outwits the hunt saboteurs. There are echoes of Eliot, and numerous bawdy touches, evocative of Chaucer’s Miller’s Tale.
It’s given a highly polished pair of performances by George Dillon and the piercing-eyed Denise Evans of the No Alternative Theatre Company.

BOLTON EVENING NEWS, 12 December 1984

It’s a satire so biting it devours, a full-frontal assault on the established
social order so devastating it ought to have audiences marching out of the theatre to stage a rebellion.
But it won’t. As Steven Berkoff’s Decadence finally points out, the ruled are where the rulers want them and it’s where the ruled seem to want to be too.
Decadence, however, is no heavy political tract, certainly not in this excellent production by Manchester’s No Alternative Theatre Company (at the Bolton Octagon). It’s horribly, wickedly, gleefully, viciously, smuttily funny.
The unbroken hour and 40 minutes is in the form of a series of short, sharp comic verse and rhyming slang scenes, between a public school-educated upper class appalling twit and his tally-ho mistress, intertwined with glimpses of twit’s wife and her lowly lover.
Played with exaggerated cartoon-style gusto and amazing energy and skill by the marvellous George Dillon and Denise Evans (in evening dress with a white sofa as the only prop) the subject matter ranges from fornication to getting drunk and on to fornication, greed, vomiting, fornication, colour prejudice, jingoism and fornication. And then it moves on to a few habits that aren’t so socially acceptable.
It’s a gothic horror of outrage. A minority of last night’s audience was clearly tested beyond its endurance and left the theatre. But they missed the point – outrage is what it’s all about.
You should see it it you possibly can but you’ve only got tonight and tomorrow to do so.

Alan Hulme, MANCHESTER EVENING NEWS, 12 December 1984

IT is 12 years since Decadence was first staged. Thatcher has gone but the Tories are still in office and Berkoff’s powerful satire on the ruling classes, it has been said, is in danger of losing its bite.
George Dillon and Denise Evans, veterans of No Alternative’s seminal touring production of the mid-Eighties, both give fine performances. Dillon’s Steve, an upper class lout with a fetish for foxhunting, is a pathetic, snivelling sadomasochist, Evans’s Helen a haggard, sneering home counties bitch. They wrestle together like pigs in swill, their strangulated vowels oozing hatred for all those “dirty, poofy, Marxist, working-class yobs”.
In contrast Les, a private dick, and his dolly Sybil are the have-nots, fuelled by avarice and envy but destined always to be at the bottom of the heap. Berkoff’s vitriolic blank verse is as savagely funny as ever, gutter language laced with venom.
The ex-public school brute and his mistress are timeless parodies and this outstanding production proves that Decadence is much more than a period piece.

Toby Hamden, THE SCOTSMAN, 1993