In this third event in the series Ask an Artist: What makes art work? playwright Patrick Marmion talks about the inspiration he took from Stephen Berkoff’s play, based on the Oedipus myth.
Patrick writes: “When I first saw Stephen Berkoff’s Greek as a student back in the Eighties at the Edinburgh Festival it blew my head off. I had no idea you could write like this. It never occurred to me you could use language in this way. Its combination of cod Shakespeare and flamboyant cockney vernacular infused with pungently sexual imagery was ravishingly intoxicating. I made it my task to read everything Berkoff had written and I went on to write my dissertation on the man and his theatre.
“Years have passed and in some ways I might have grown out of this play, but what’s stuck is not just my love of the language which seems almost to spring direct from the body, but also a kind of Dionysian or Rabelaisian obscenity that is joyful and releases us from the po-faced moralism that we’ve come to associate with Aristotle’s more hygienic idea of tragedy.
“Berkoff has become more attractive to me than ever in some ways. A notoriously difficult man himself who has been accused of all sorts of sexual transgression, there are aspects of his writing which are gloriously uncomfortable for today’s audiences. And yet with all the repressive puritanism that’s accompanied the counter revolution against the liberalism of the Sixties and Seventies, too many writers have lost touch with their creative libidos and we have grown accustomed to a theatre that is led by bloodless, neutered moralists.”
There is no necessity to read anything in advance for this discussion, but if you would like to you can find Greek here. You can also find copies of Patrick Marmion’s plays on Amazon.
About the series
What are the artistic reference points for today’s artists? How do exemplary works of art from the past inform their creativity? In this new series of Arts & Society forums, we invite artists in a variety of spheres to select a work of art and explain how it has influenced them. How has their chosen piece prompted them to emulate its achievement?
theatre critic and playwright. His most recent plays include The Divided Laing; Keith? Or Moliere Rewired; and Great Apes