Stephen Smith – Back On The Road

Stephen Smith – Back On The Road

Busy enough during lockdown producing, appearing in and directing a number of award winning and innovative online shows for Threedumb Theatre, London based actor Stephen Smith has recently returned to live work with a double bill of Steven Berkoff’s pieces Dog and Actor. He has taken them on the road starting in Liverpool (he’s a graduate of LIPA) and is currently enjoying a short break before continuing. The tour has still to play Bath (June 4), Wimbledon (June 11), Rugby (June 29), Cambridge (July 7 – 9), Camden (August 2 – 6) and Edinburgh (August 15 – 20); for further details and bookings click here.

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With a window of opportunity beckoning (hmm, somewhat clumsy mixing of imagery there – anyway, moving on) I caught up with him for one of our occasional but always enjoyable chats online so I could see how things were going. “Incredibly well” came the response. “It was such a relief to know that the show still resonates after the last two years and in a very different world. The show has universal themes that any audience member can relate to. Every reviewer so far has given it five stars, so we can firmly and confidently say that it truly is a five star show!”

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Both the pieces were written some time ago and not necessarily intended to be played as a pair, though Berkoff himself did so in his regularly performed one man show. Dog is a portrait of a chillingly racist/misogynist, football supporter thug with some strong opinions. Smith plays not only the protagonist but also his pitbull terrier, Roy, giving the animal a voice which is possibly even more dogmatic (sorry!) than his human owner’s. What is revealed are underlying insecurities fuelled by toxic masculinity: “The notion of taking on a racist skinhead who loves football-pub-lad culture and pitbull terriers couldn’t be more farther away to how I look at myself and my ideology of the world”.

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Actor also focuses on insecurity as a white faced thespian battles with feelings of paranoia and jealousy as he faces up to the multiple rejections which he believes are holding back his career. Stylistically it’s both a homage to and a parody of Marcel Marceau and the like but in a twist, Smith has introduced a loop pedal into the performance, creating a whole world of aural possibilities. Both plays are short and sharp but densely packed and performed in the intense and challenging physical theatre style for which Berkoff is renowned: “On an effort-scale of 1-10, Dog/Actor comes in at an 11”. Thus the worlds of the pieces are largely conjured up in the audience’s imagination through the commitment of the actor; having seen Smith perform on a number of occasions, I can vouch for the fact that he’s definitely got that.

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Smith “discovered” Berkoff as part of his A Level studies and this tour represents the realisation of a long held ambition to showcase the maverick writer/performer’s work. Early performances in Watford and London during 2018/19 led to a short engagement in Dubai – yes you did read that right. Undoubtedly a coup, as Berkoff’s work had never been performed in that region before, it took the audiences, used to a theatrical world of glitz and glamour, by surprise. It also revealed that the show was eminently suitable for touring, and so, thirteen venues and eight fringe festivals were booked across the UK for 2020. But we all know what happened next. Finally, after a two year hiatus, plans are back on track and with a slimmed down schedule and the pandemic quickly receding, the actor is currently having a great time carrying the whole minimalist production round in a suitcase and wowing audiences with a high octane rendering of this pair of physical theatre pieces.

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Just being out on the road again and appearing live at venues is firing up the actor and the tour is also enabling him to have some quality family time. “For most of the tour I’ll be travelling around with my brother David, who will be operating the sound and lights. He was also the camera operator for our digital work during the lockdowns. I’m most looking forward to travelling around with David from place to place, and giving him a top-quality first-time experience at the Edinburgh Fringe to finish it all off in August”.

The good news for online theatre aficionados is that Smith is not entirely abandoning this still developing format and that plans are being drawn up for productions which will continue to inhabit the virtual as well as the actual world. As a way of delving into Threedumb Theatre’s previous form in this area, why not take a look at their online shows which are free to view on the Scenesaver platform (click on the titles below to access the videos)

The Tell Tale Heart

Review here
Within Review here
The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde Review here
The Black Cat Review here
A review of the live streamed One Man Poe is available here

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I’ve yet to see the current show myself but will, of course, be posting a review when I do. Threedumb’s work throughout the pandemic has been consistently inventive and an inspirational beacon of the possibilities inherent in the still developing genre of online theatre. However, I’m really looking forward to this live encounter…. And to having a post show chat that doesn’t involve staring down a camera lens.

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Photos by: Cat Humphries Photography

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