Harvey review – Steven Berkoff explores Weinstein's psyche

Playground theatre, London
This attempt to delve into the disgraced movie mogul’s mind finds rage, denial and hate

The theatre’s promotional blurb warns that Steven Berkoff will go “where no one dares: inside Harvey Weinstein’s head”. Berkoff does as billed, with a 45-minute dramatic monologue imagining the inner world of the disgraced Hollywood film mogul, who has pleaded not guilty to charges of sexual assault and rape. Weinstein denies all claims of nonconsensual sex.

But for all its promise to those who want to peer, imaginatively, into the dark heart of the #MeToo story, this production – written, directed and solo performed by the 81-year-old Berkoff – presents little beyond what we know from the headlines and the graphic allegations.

Berkoff’s Harvey is unwilling – or unable – to search far into his soul. Instead, he is caught in a repeated cycle of denial, blame, regret and rage, so that the evil on show reveals nothing more than its own banality. Even if this is the point, the endless repetition does not make for gripping drama.

Harvey emerges in T-shirt and tracksuit bottoms, shoulders slumped and face unshaven. An initial, lugubrious voiceover summarises his rise and fall: “Oh Harvey … over 80 women have come forward … After all those films: sex, lies and videotape, The Crying Game, Pulp Fiction, for which you won an Academy Award …”

Lacks complexity … Berkoff as Harvey Weinstein. Photograph: Richard Young/Rex/Shutterstock

The set is a prison cell with an interrogation-room quality. The stage is vast and empty except for a red leather chair and footstool spotlit at its centre. Berkoff has always presented a forceful physicality on stage, so it is puzzling that he remains seated and static for most of the play. He stands up towards the end and comes alive in body and voice, but he quickly sits back down and the effect is lost.

Berkoff’s characterisation does not tunnel far down into the psyche, but the emotional switches from blame to self-loathing do at least capture the paradox of misogyny. Just beneath the surface of Harvey’s hate of the beautiful women he encounters (“The money they spend on their lips and hips and tits”) is deep-seated physical inadequacy (“You are fat and ugly”), the fear of rejection (“No bitch is going to fantasise over you”), and a grubby, pubescent sexual yearning (“Flesh, flesh!”).

There is little complexity, or narrative variety, beyond this. We do not learn anything of Harvey’s early life that might have provided psychological clues to his behaviour. Neither is there a detailed backstory around his wife and children who are only briefly mentioned. Berkoff has claimed there is an antisemitic subtext in the reporting of the Weinstein case, and it seems like a missed opportunity that his play does not touch on that complex ground, either.

The drama ends up as neither tragedy nor the dark farce David Mamet has promised in his forthcoming Weinstein-inspired drama. The audience is cornered into a discomforting voyeurism as we listen to his justifications, self-pity and victim-blaming: “They don’t have to come to me in a hotel room. There’s no gun to their heads.”

The monologue is interspersed with periodic voiceovers by unnamed victims who narrate accounts of forced fondlings, masturbatory assaults and hotel-room rapes. Alongside, there are graphic mentions of semen-spurting by Harvey himself, with occasional apologetic asides for his language: “It just comes out of my mouth. I’m sorry it’s disgusting. There are some ladies here.”

The production makes clear, on the night, that this is a work-in-progress, and Berkoff has a script with him on stage (although to those buying tickets online there is nothing to indicate that the play is still being workshopped). It is when he forgets his lines and riffs his apologies that we are reminded of Berkoff’s natural ease and charisma on stage. Unfortunately, they are wasted on Harvey.


Arifa Akbar

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Steven Berkoff: who will dare to stage my one-man Harvey Weinstein play?
He’s played baddies in everything from Bond to Beverly Hills Cop. Now he’s tackling the disgraced movie mogul in a self-penned play. The actor-playwright explains why theatre is dying out – along with his enemies’ reputations

Stuart Jeffries

20, Nov, 2018 @4:50 PM

Article image
Theatre and #MeToo: 'There's a new anger in women's stories'
The Weinstein scandal has inspired several new plays ranging from sharp satire to crass comedy. As the mogul heads to trial, we gauge theatre’s response

Arifa Akbar

27, Aug, 2019 @5:00 AM

Article image
Rose McGowan: 'I miss performing. My career was stolen'
Her revelations about Harvey Weinstein sparked #MeToo. Now, as the disgraced mogul’s trial approaches, she’s back with an Edinburgh show

Ryan Gilbey

01, Jul, 2019 @1:34 PM

Article image
Rita, Sue and #MeToo: 'There'd be outrage if it was written today'
Was the Royal Court right to put on Rita, Sue and Bob Too? We asked three playwrights to look afresh at Andrea Dunbar’s story of two girls preyed on by an older man

Ella Carmen Greenhill , Atiha Sen Gupta and April De Angelis

17, Jan, 2018 @4:23 PM

Article image
Masterpieces review – misogyny is a badge of pride in 80s sexual violence drama
Men openly tell rape jokes in Sarah Daniels’ 1983 play, which has renewed impact in the era of #MeToo, even if this revival could be sharper

Lyn Gardner

29, Apr, 2018 @3:44 PM

Article image
Chimerica's Cherry Jones: 'Everything progressive in America has been trampled on'
Jones has played nuns, poets and even the US president in 24 ... while working with problematic men. ‘If we condemn by instinct, we’re on a slippery slope,’ she says

Zoe Williams

16, Apr, 2019 @2:23 PM

Article image
Harvey Weinstein trial nears final act after defence rests
Movie producer ‘loved’ closing remarks of his lawyer, who questioned motives of accusers

Ed Pilkington in New York

14, Feb, 2020 @10:45 AM

Article image
Cate Blanchett on her S&M-themed play: 'I see theatre as a provocation'
Cate Blanchett has played queens, vagabonds and Bob Dylan. Now the double Oscar-winner is hitting the London stage and hinting at a farewell from acting. We talk to the team behind the avant garde play about sexual domination

Andrew Dickson

09, Jan, 2019 @5:00 PM

Article image
The disbelieved: rape accusers' stories retold on stage
When a rape trial ends in acquittal, what do the anonymous women who made the claims do next?

Helen Pidd North of England editor

25, Apr, 2018 @5:00 AM

Article image
Harvey Weinstein aide tells of 'morally lacking' non-disclosure deal
Woman who worked for Miramax in UK tells MPs she left job after Weinstein tried to rape colleague

Holly Watt

28, Mar, 2018 @3:37 PM