The London riots on stage

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The London riots on stage

Post  eddie on Sat Nov 26, 2011 1:20 pm

The Riots - review

Tricycle Theatre, London

Michael Billington
The Guardian, Wednesday 23 November 2011


Asking why: Kingsley Ben-Adir and Steve Toussaint in The Riots by Gillian Slovo and directed by Nicolas Kent at the Tricycle. Photograph: Tristram Kenton for the Guardian

Once again, the theatre steals a march on officialdom. In the absence of any full public inquiry into the August riots, the Tricycle commissioned Gillian Slovo to create a verbatim piece on the events and their possible causes. And, if the result can hardly be expected to provide any definitive answers, it asks the right questions in a way that is clear, gripping and necessary.

The evening is in two distinct halves. In the first we get witness accounts, with film footage and street maps, of events in Tottenham on the night of 6 August. One thing emerges strongly: the failure of the police to inform Mark Duggan's family of either the facts or the circumstances of his shooting. This was the match that lit the bonfire.

But we then hear from the police themselves about the pressures they were under, from members of the Tottenham community caught up in the riots, and from both the victims and perpetrators of the looting. Everyone has a different perspective, but a youth worker puts it succinctly when he says: "You've got the legitimate anger; and then you've got, obviously, people who jump on that anger."

In the second, more reflective half a range of MPs, social workers and top police officers speculate on the underlying causes. Again, you get a wide range of opinions. Diane Abbott, the Hackney MP, sees what happened as a repeat of the race riots of the 1980s: a Manchester chief inspector, in Brixton in the 1980s, says events this time had a totally different feel. Michael Gove describes rioters as "a vicious, lawless and immoral minority"; John McDonnell, Labour MP, relates the riots to damaging cuts in youth services.

You get a plurality of views, but what emerges is a widespread sense of people, and not just the young, seeking revenge on an unjust society. It is fascinating. But is it theatre?

I would offer a resounding "Yes" because one of the medium's many functions, apart from giving ecstasy and entertainment, is to offer information and provoke debate. Slovo's skillfully edited text and Nicolas Kent's well-ordered production do precisely that. In little more than four months, they have amassed a huge range of material and posed the questions that parliament has failed properly to address. Why did the summer riots happen? And what are the lessons we can learn?

From a 14-strong cast, I would single out Steve Toussaint, lending authority to a consultant on racial equality who, asked to sum up the rioters in three words, says "frustrated, angry and British"; Cyril Nri as a black police superintendent; and Kingsley Ben-Adir as a youth worker. Dona Croll as Diane Abbott, and Tim Woodward as a series of authority figures, also impress. And, even if the show has an inevitable London bias, it passes a vital test: it offers us the evidence, and leaves us to form our own opinion as to why there is such anger on Britain's streets.

eddie
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Re: The London riots on stage

Post  eddie on Thu Dec 01, 2011 11:28 pm

The Riots- review

Tricycle, London

Susannah Clapp

The Observer, Sunday 27 November 2011
Article history


A scene from The Riots at the Tricycle: ‘Nicolas Kent stages the speeches with a patient confidence and acting of unmatched transparency.’ Photograph: Tristram Kenton

"You've got the legitimate anger. And then you've got, obviously, people who jump on that anger." Gillian Slovo's vivid and provoking play about the summer's riots twists between the anger and the jumping, as described by a Tottenham-based youth worker. It brings to the stage the words of people damaged by the riots, and the testimony of police, doctors, looters and onlookers. Edited from interviews conducted in September and October, The Riots springs from an idea and a challenge by the Tricycle's outgoing artistic director Nicolas Kent: since the government had refused a public inquiry into the causes of the disturbances, his theatre should stage its own.

After a burst of video – flames and a roar of sound on London streets – speakers come forward on a stage that is empty save for bricks and bottled water piled up at the front. At one point, flames surge up on either side so that the action seems to be taking place in a brazier, but most of the movement is in the speech. This is delivered by actors who barely move, who are sometimes seated, and who are mostly calm. All the force – contradictory, vehement and sad – is in the words that are chosen and used.

The family of Mark Duggan, shot dead by police, were told he had been involved in an exchange of fire: he had not. They were told the body in the police station was not his: it was. Mohamed Hammoudan hurried his young son to pull on his shoes as he saw a wall of smoke in the hall, then watched his home burnt down, with people regarding it "like a trophy". A pastor watched a mother making sure the shoes she had looted fitted her child's feet, and saw kids going into McDonald's to make their own food. A policeman told a doctor in A&E: "We've lost Clapham." One youth explained: "I wanted a new iPod an' shit an' I got one innit."

Michael Gove's wife thinks the riots are like a Rorschach blot: everyone sees in them what they expect to. The secretary of state for education's own views bear her out. He thinks there is no evidence that spending more money on local youth projects would help, and wonders why more youth aren't joining the scouts.

You wouldn't expect to go to the liberal Tricycle and leave with the idea that everyone who took to the streets should be horse-whipped. Yet there is nothing bullying about the generous spread of evidence presented here. In the best traditions of the tribunals that he has pioneered at the theatre, Nicolas Kent stages the speeches with a patient confidence and with acting of unmatched transparency. The tension is, as a consequence, greater. The result is vital.

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Re: The London riots on stage

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