Review: On the Waterfront

By John Nathan, February 19, 2009

Theatre Royal, Haymarket

Maverick actor/director Steven Berkoff was viewed by many (unfairly) as a spent theatrical force. Now here he is in the West End directing and starring in an impressive — and impressionistic — stage version of a genuine classic.

In Budd Schulberg’s adaptation (co-written with Stan Silverman) of his own Oscar-winning screenplay, Berkoff oozes malevolence as the ironically-named mobster Johnny Friendly.

The starkly lit action is set against a Statue of Liberty silhouette that holds, instead of a torch, a longshoreman’s hook. Without Bernstein’s soaring score the action occasionally drags. But Simon Merrells as Terry Malloy, the boxer who “coulda been a contender”, achieves the near-impossible with a performance as magnetic as Brando’s.

Last updated: 4:19pm, April 28 2009