Dillon’s face creases up, dividing pitted skin into bundles of angry sinew as his cheekbones stand proud in the single overhead spot light. He is dressed all in black, barrel chest bound in a t-shirt, black combat trousers over bare feet – he looks more like Bruce Lee than a luvvie.
This man Dillon is ninja-hard and he struts and paces Komedia stage blasting the stupidly sparse audience with sheer physical presence and tight, well-drilled stagecraft.
Is he George Dillon, or is he Steven Berkoff? Twenty years of the working with the idiosyncratic Berkoff, means that the intensity of the master has rubbed off on the pupil.
This late (10pm start!) show is the world premiere of ‘Graft – Tales Of An Actor’ by Steven Berkoff, adapted from a short story collection about an actor’s life on the road.
The disciple starts the show in a blaze of energy. He leaps, he blasts, he swears, his hands support the narrative, his fingers claw the way through Berkoff’s agonised exposition.
It’s all about Harry. Harry is a poor, downtrodden rep actor with big ambitions and perhaps an inflated view of his own importance. Dillon spits out the tale: the tribulations of life in rep – rehearsals, gossip, jealousy, sex and so on.
It’s a long confession, ultimately resolved in tragedy. This show is on its way to Edinburgh, but those of us lucky enough to be at Komedia were privileged to see a master class in powerful performance – this was an explosive ticket.
To get the most from it you really need to be tuned into acting, to watch the moves, the nuances of the man. Then you might appreciate the power and the beauty of Dillon’s work.
As the extraordinary, tortured prose spits out of Dillon the younger man miraculously transforms, metamorphosing into the real Berkoff. I was stunned by the visual and verbal similarities between the two. Just what is the hold that Berkoff has over Dillon? For this almost supernatural transformation alone, Graft is worth the ticket price.Jon Pratty, SEELIFE.BRIGHTON.CO.UK, 1st August 2000
ENOUGH TO TAKE BREATH AWAY
With Steven Berkoff’s Messiah premiering elsewhere on the Fringe, it would be easy to dismiss George Dillon’s one-man adaptation of the writer’s “tales of an actor” as simply the homage of a true disciple. No-one else captures Berkoff’s voice quite like Dillon, after all. This, however, would be a grave disservice, overlooking the virtuosity of Dillon’s performance that makes Harry – the conspiracy-theorising failed actor – very much his own; that holds the audience so rapt that at points I am convinced we collectively stopped breathing. It would also do an injury to Berkoff’s writing that is so incisive, so damning of the “business” of theatre, that the young actress in the row behind me turned to her companion at the end, and with a sigh that verged on tears said: “So what are we going to do now?” She was not referring to the rest of the evening. It is certainly a tragedy – this life of a rep actor with only a modicum of talent but a blackly comic one, and Dillon clowns as much as he grimaces, strutting and fretting his hour upon the stage in a way that is intuitive and inventive – the most compelling storytelling you will see.Robert Thomson, THE HERALD, 2nd August 2000
STEVEN BERKOFF’S BOOK MADE FLESH BY GEORGE DILLON
A one-hour solo performance about failure and unrequited talent, Graft blow-torches the facade off the acting world. The empty bitterness of the self-loathing soul of acting comes through in Berkoff’s crippling poetic language and is stunningly executed by the genius of George Dillon. Vocally compelling, Dillon is an actor with it all. His electric desperation and vitriol collide with painful cravings of the soul, to produce a truly powerful performance. Never indulgent, Dillon’s physicality is organically and poignantly precise. Initially, there is a worry that he is too much the disciple of Berkoff, but his own idiosyncratic, requited talent soon soars.Davie Archibald, THE LIST, 10th August 2000
DOWN AND OUT THESPIAN TRAGEDY
In this new piece based on stories by Steven Berkoff, George Dillon introduces us to Harry. From working-class guy with a chip on his shoulder to hesitant thespian to “angrily” inspired student to sad old man with his nose pressed up against the window of an actor’s pub, we follow most steps of the curious acting profession which can not only bring fame and glory, but whose punishing and often cruel practices constantly challenge a sense of identity. Or is it simply that already vulnerable people are attracted to the would-be bright lights?
Dillon – who has a long history of working with Berkoff’s material – has a perfect grasp of the writer’s performance style: disturbingly intense to the point of histrionic. Deft use of cliché and formulaic language frame acute moments of insight, while witty one-liners expose the self-conscious, destructive feelings often associated with the profession: bitchiness, jealousy, envy, and ultimately a complete lack of self-worth, fed by constantly criticising and painful “mind talk”. An audience full of fellow thesps howled in constant recognition of this very inward-looking and quintessentially British persona.
It may be a case of “That’s entertainment”, but strangely enough there’s no redeeming sense that it is a life well-spent as Harry desperately accepts his final job as the back legs of a donkey. Don’t put your daughter on the stage, or even your son.Jan Fairley, THE SCOTSMAN, 11th August 2000
George Dillon, Steven Berkoff’s “disciple” for more than twenty years, tells the story of Harry, an actor, from his first audition for a local authority grant, through the highs and lows of a long career, to its end.
And a fine performance it is, an object lesson to Harry who never had Dillon’s talents or skills. He doesn’t hold the stage for an hour and a quarter: he is the stage on which Harry’s life unfolds, sweeping the audience along with irresistable force.
The text is Berkoff at his best: insightful and tightly written. It is good to see him getting back to where we are used to seeing him, after the dire Massage of ’97. In Graft we see the real Berkoff.
The play should be compulsory viewing for all who want to take up an acting career, for nothing could be more calculated to put them off. Harry’s life is a sad one: yes, it provides us, the audience, with some very funny moments but, even in the (very) occasional high spot, a sense of futility and sadness pervades the story.
But above all else, excellently written though the play is, it is Dillon’s performance whch sticks in the mind, a virtuoso performance to cherish and a standard for the rest of the Fringe to live up to!Peter Lathan, ABOUT.COM, 22nd August 2000
In a festival that seems in danger of disappearing up its own backside as pieces about acting play to audiences made up almost entirely of actors, George Dillon’s one-man show about the highs and lows of being an actor should be missable. That it isn’t is a tribute to his source material Steven Berkoffs painfully funny novel – and the fact that it allows Dillon to do what he does best: overact.
Working-class Harry becomes an actor against the odds, but finds that he suffers for his art. Up against Oxbridge prejudice, the indifference of agents and the possibility of 10 weeks playing the hind legs of a donkey, Harry finally gives his last and best performance at Leicester Square tube station. The portrait of the descent from bright-eyed hopeful to desperate depressive rings true. One show that all those Edinburgh hopefuls should see.Lyn Gardner, THE GUARDIAN, 22nd August 2000
Spanning 30 years, Graft relates the life, times and ultimate demise of Harry, a jobbing actor who suffers intensely for his art.
Key events in Harry’s life are brought to us, from his indecision when filling in his drama school application form to his suicide when he finally realises he’ll, never be the great thespian he’d always dreamed of becoming.
Graft is penned by all-rounder Steven Berkoff, one of British theatre’s finest talents. By turning in an assured and confident performance that Berkoff himself would be hard-pressed to top, George Dillon shines brightly in this one-man show.
The show offers a genuine insight into what it is that drives actors and makes them want to give away so much of themselves on stage.
At times it makes uncomfortable viewing, showing us in detail the sort of thoughts and feelings that many would be at pains to keep hidden from others.
But, there are moments of light relief amongst the pathos and, in being moving without ever lapsing into sentimentality, it is a bold and striking performance from an outstanding young actor.Andrew Midgley, METRO (EDINBURGH), 23 August 2000
It’s a very simple formula. Put an extremely talented actor together with one of the best writers of our time, and you’re in for an outstanding show.
The King’s Head Theatre in Islington, always a force to be reckoned with, is currently playing host to George Dillon’s one-man show based on work by Steven Berkoff.
Graft – Tales of an Actor, tells the story of Harry. Harry is a dedicated artist, often out of work, rejected and desparate to practise his craft. From auditioning at the local Town Hall for a drama school grant, through occasional working highs and low encounters with agents and directors to his final exit at Leicester Square tube, Steven Berkoff masterfully creates the world of an ever-struggling actor.
How much is based on truth from the life story of one of the theatrical geniuses of our time, isn’t known. The performer, however, admits to some of it being somewhat close to the reality of his own life experience to date. This performance should, however, ensure that this will not be the case in the future.
It is a rare occurence that an actor can hold court on a stage, and whisk the audience away from their cramped auditorium seats and into a different life from one they have known or experienced. George Dillon achieved just that. With some obvious lessons learned from the great Berkoff himself, Dillon does a superb job on the tiny King’s Head stage, and demonstrates his power to draw the appreciate audience into the sad and lonely world of Harry.
Graft, Tales of an Actor is a rich piece of theatre and well worth seeing.Linda Revill, GREENROOM-ARTS.COM, 8th February 2001
Graft – Tales Of An Actor – is Steven Berkoff’s account of the trials and tribulations of a struggling thespian. It could equally be called An Actor’s Lot Is Not A Happy One as Harry doesn’t have a very good time of things.
We are guided from his first steps into the theatrical world, through his moderate success at work and less successful attempts at romance. to his bedraggled, miserable end via the rubber-faced George Dillon, who performs and directs this taxing monologue with an extraordinary amount of energy.
Although referring to Harry throughout in the third person, Dillon constantly metamorphoses into his troubled protagonist, who is by turns overwhelmed by joy, bowed by rejection and loneliness and contorted by hatred of his fellow actors, various directors and an oily agent.
Dillon pulls the comedy out of Harry’s tragedy carefully and keeps up his explosive outbursts throughout, still managing to deafen us long after the average person would have shouted themselves hoarse.
Someone with scant idea of the workings of the theatrical world would miss a lot of the in-jokes and the performance, given how exhausting it is to watch, is a little too long.
But it is, nonetheless, a tour-de-force by Dillon and well worth seeing especially if you harbour delusions that the acting trade is a glamorous occupation.Siobhan Murphy, METRO (LONDON), 12 February 2001
THEATRICAL LIFE REVEALED IN POWERFUL ONE-MAN SHOW
Most actors may be fools, but at least the best of them know it. The rest of the theatrical profession – directors, agents, producers, funding agencies, critics – are pretty much all fools and knaves who couldn’t care less about the actor’s suffering for his, or her, art.
That’s the thrust of writer/actor/producer/director Steven Berkoff’s quasi-autobiographical novel Graft – Tales Of An Actor, now brilliantly transformed into a one-man stage performance by George Dillon.
The Manchester graduate is a long-time Berkoff associate who has performed in four of the iconoclastic Berkoff’s plays, as well as directing the world premiere of his Brighton Beach Scumbags and collaborating on stagings of Sink The Belgrano! and Salome.
But here he seems to be virtually channelling him, adding ever-more layers of meaning and inference in a truly enthralling, painfully funny show that ought to be required viewing for anyone who’s even remotely interested in theatre that’s more visceral and challenging than the latest blockbuster musical.
Performed by Dillon without props, sets or costume changes, Graft relates the story of dedicated, deluded and lusty actor Harry. It is an extraordinary performance, aided only by lighting changes, with Berkoff’s brutal but compassionate prose elevated to new heights by the impassioned physicality of Dillon’s delivery. This uniquely vigorous and compelling theatrical experience continues tonight and tomorrow.Kevin Bourke, MANCHESTER EVENING NEWS, 26 April 2001
Then the star goes outMaartje Den Breejen, HET PAROOL, 18 May 2001
Then the cast-iron performance Graft – Tales of an Actor, written by the ever-sharp, biting kid on the block Steven Berkoff, and played, adapted and directed by the Englishman George Dillon. Dillon tells and plays the story of Harry, an actor with a working-class past who, after a few roles, is nowhere to be found. The gap between the dream and the life of a mediocre actor is explained here in great detail. Harry is allowed to play a part after a suffocating audition. He waits behind the theater curtains, the audience sounds to him like a ‘big rumbling hungry stomach in the distance’, his role has grown in him like a child of Satan, it has to get out, he grows, he grows, he bursts. Glory awaits him. And then those reviews: Nazi trash.
In a few sentences, Dillon portrays this whole story as a sniper. There is no set, however, Dillon builds street scenes, theaters, offices and crowds of people before your eyes.
Jealousy splashes off like dangerous explosive material from Dillon when he joins a class with the beautiful Neil, after which he plunges into an improvisation with an eerie commitment. Each time you go along with his megalomania, his hopes, his fantasies, and rejection after rejection you experience it too, on the telephone, on letters, from directors, fellow players, yes even on the dance floor.
And then a scene of heartbreaking sadness: Harry is sitting at the casting director’s desk near closing time with a view of blissful family photos and he has to close his hands for a role as a donkey in a children’s show. Harry appeals to all remaining pride, fighting spirit and imagination to show that he is worth more. After his account he ends up on his knees and exhausted, he looks hopefully at the director, who looks dreamily out of the window. Harry hears him thinking: ‘you see cases like this once or twice a year: in your office, before your very eyes, they play their last major role, and then the star goes out’. With Harry you die a thousand deaths.
Graft: failed life told very cleverlyEric van der Velden, UTRECHTS NIEWSBLAD, 18 May 2001
Pinball acting. Doesn’t sound like a flippant characterization, but it is definitely meant to be positive. It is really amazing how the English actor George Dillon ensures a flying speed in his solo Graft – Tales of an Actor. How his arms, hands, legs and face react to what he fires with his vocal cords in inflections and word accents.
You hardly ever come across such physical acting in the Dutch theaters. Only comedians like Freek de Jonge and Bert Visser come close, but they are nowhere near the virtuoso body control that the muscular Dillon clearly has. This does not mean that these comedians are Dillon’s inferiors. What seems spontaneous and untouched to them, can be experienced as baroque and bombastic with this English actor. You have to get used to Dillon’s busy playing style. In fact, he is so attention-grabbing that there is a danger of forgetting to listen to the meaning of the words. That’s what happened to this reviewer. For the first half hour it took effort to keep the attention on the text, but afterwards content and form did show traces and a poignant story about a failed (actors) life emerged. Dillon does not take the role of his character Harry, but comments on his actions. As a narrator, he initially appears to have little compassion. In a cheerful tone, as if it were a hilarious history of an old acquaintance, Dillon treats the audience to anecdotes about failed auditions, questionable successes, cynical and opportunistic theater agents. Harry leads a difficult life as an actor, but so what. If only he should have chosen an ordinary profession.
But towards the end, Dillon strikes inexorably and makes you fully realize how dangerously important acting really is to Harry. He has no other medicine for loneliness. He has made his entire reason for existence dependent on acting. It is better to play the wordless role of ‘beast’ in a provincial Christmas pantomine than to confront one’s own limitations and one’s own reality.
The elaboration of this theme is at odds with the chosen playing style: subtle versus emphatic. That works remarkably well. With ‘Graft Tales of an actor’, based on short stories by Dillon’s teacher Steven Berkoff, Festival an der Werf has brought a special production to the Netherlands. In any case, not to be missed by theater students.
George Dillon was alone on the stage. He didn’t need anything, and you immediately saw that from one moment to the next he crawled into the skin of the main character, then again in that of the narrator and then in another important character. He tells the story of a once unsuccessful actor who thinks he’s great. Dillon acts with a passion as you unfortunately rarely see. From the first to the last sentence, he continues to captivate you with his game. Like a chameleon, Dillon enters the stage and exposes the souls of the troubled actor Harry and the harsh world in which he finds himself… George Dillon gave an example of how, if you have great acting talent, you can make beautiful theatre with few means.Henk, ZUILENS NIEUWSBLAD, 22 May 2001
Berkoff’s Graft fantastically tells Tales of an Actor, from the incredible joy of being accepted for training (and funding!), through the exhilaration and torment that is the life of one forever putting themselves up for rejection, the sacrifices made with deliberation and with less self-knowledge, and the struggle to actually make a living, through to ‘the final curtain’. The latter is a little abrupt, but this is quite possibly apt, given what occurs, and still contains dark humour.
There is a lot of comedy in fact, but most of all there is a consummate actor ‘showing how it’s done’. George Dillon attacks the words, emotions and ideas with a controlled and often ferocious energy that sweeps the audience up into a world of sheer physicality, entertaining, pushing and in some ways probing us. Any actors watching – and there are bound to be many in the Fringe – have both the joy of recognition and the squirming of private rants made public. And there is the opportunity to learn from a master player quite possibly at his peak.
Dillon’s performance actually has a circus feel to it – throughout you cannot help but be aware of, and amazed by, his skill – the fitness, detail and energy given to presenting his script. If you are also aware of technique you will spend the time in awe of how he plays his character and the audience. This style, with its use of vocal tone changes, slow motion pieces, muscular physicality, portrayed self-awareness points – very much part of Berkoff’s tradition – along with beautifully engineered introspective moments, holds a quality of obvious performance that, while it might make Brecht cheer in his grave for this very effect, can alienate audience empathy with this very striking character. The seconds in which a real person emerges and connects in heartbreaking simplicity are a little too rare and in this reviewer begged the question: if this were not a Berkoff piece, what would Dillon do with it?
But this is clearly a Berkoff piece and it has huge appeal for being such. Dillon, closely connected to Berkoff’s work, delivers a powerhouse of vocal and physical performance, showing much of an actor’s world in both the bringing to life of an exposing script and in the sheer entertainment value of his clear, energetic, explosive and comic embodiment of these Tales of an Actor.
Berkoff’s Graft is just one of Dillon’s shows in Fringe 2011, so while there are only a few showings of each piece, there are a number of opportunities (at different venues) to watch this brilliant actor in his 21st Anniversary Solo Season. The Man Who Was Hamlet is also reviewed (from last year’s production) here at Edinburgh Spotlight, with more to come – so it is with confidence that this reviewer says: grab whatever Dillon show(s) you can!Danielle Farrow, EDINBURGH SPOTLIGHT, 24th August 2011
George Dillon is one of those names that only true Edinburgh regulars will know. Celebrating his 21st anniversary as a solo performer this year, Dillon has taken on a typically gruelling schedule, with a record six shows playing across the city. He has enjoyed a long and healthy association with Steven Berkoff, and this premiere, detailing the tumultuous life and career of one, Harry, sees both on top form.
Throughout Graft, in which Dillon has to do just that, we are treated to a multitude of stories, anecdotes, and rants: the overwhelming elation of acceptance into drama school, the frustration of relationships, learning to cope with the pain of rejection, the preparation for crucial auditions and roles, self-perception and awareness, the difficulty of making ends meet, and approaching the end of your career.
Many actors had filled up the rows behind me – most from Berkoff’s Oedipus at the Pleasance – and were reacting tellingly; knowing chuckles, groaning sighs, and stunned silences, suggesting Berkoff had hit many theatrical nails squarely on the head.
Needless to say, Dillon is superbly compelling. At turns mocking, affectionate, witty, acerbic, and aggressive, his performance is never less than truthful and revelatory, a lyrically brutal monologue which does not only illuminate the many joys of the profession, but also the crushing blows encountered by so many along the path to success.
Dillon is best at driving the narrative forward, but although the frantically exaggerated act suits the piece, it can become a little tiresome. Saying that, he hardly stumbles once, defiantly ploughing through the dense and wordy speeches with gusto and a mock pretentiousness that elicits much laughter.
Graft can appear a tad thin in places and to my mind, cannot compare with some of Berkoff’s earlier work, but there is no doubt that a bravura turn from Dillon makes this almost an unmissable afternoon at Merchants’ Hall.Adam Elms, WHATSONSTAGE.COM, 26th August 2011
“Distinct, sharp, stylish,” to take words from the lead character, could not be a more appropriate way of describing this incredible piece of theatre. This dramatic monologue written by the acclaimed Steven Berkoff fearlessly deconstructs and exposes the gritty reality that faces those in the acting profession. I cannot praise George Dillon enough; his versatility and skill has the audience laughing hysterically at one moment, maintaining pin-drop silence the next. His performance is truly a masterclass in acting as he compellingly sustains the intensity and frustration of a thespian’s career throughout the play. And, with only two performances at this year’s Fringe, it is a show that simply mustn’t be missed – a true tour de force.Simon Thornton, THREE WEEKS, 31st August 2011