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Little Revolution, Almeida Theatre – Review

Pros: Large cast vividly recreate post-riots London.

Cons: Lacked a gripping narrative arc.

Pros: Large cast vividly recreate post-riots London. Cons: Lacked a gripping narrative arc. Every Londoner remembers where they were during the riots, that five-day period of lawlessness in the summer of 2011 that spiralled from the peaceful protest against the police killing of Mark Duggan. Personally I was dealing with a comparatively minor crisis of replacing an actor in a three-hander Edinburgh show the day before our London preview. My main memory from that time is that the chaos in the streets was completely incomprehensible to me. Writer Alecky Blythe – armed with her Dictaphone – ventured out into…

Summary

Rating

Good

More of a documentary than a play, Little Revolution is interesting in parts but not all that penetrating.

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Every Londoner remembers where they were during the riots, that five-day period of lawlessness in the summer of 2011 that spiralled from the peaceful protest against the police killing of Mark Duggan. Personally I was dealing with a comparatively minor crisis of replacing an actor in a three-hander Edinburgh show the day before our London preview. My main memory from that time is that the chaos in the streets was completely incomprehensible to me.

Writer Alecky Blythe – armed with her Dictaphone – ventured out into the heart of the disorder and tried to understand it, or at the very least document it. The responses of the local community were recorded and have been edited and shaped to form Little Revolution, a verbatim play that focuses on the period after the riots as local residents tried to make sense of what happened and begin to heal. This is easier said than done and as the residents start to pick up the pieces, new cracks form and divisions threaten to break the fragile sense of community.

The play used a large ensemble of multi-roling actors to recreate the events in and around Clarence Road in Hackney. The actors slip easily and ably between their roles with fluid scene changes, never missing a beat or dropping the energy in this fast-paced piece. You have to admire the skill of the actors, relaying their lines as they hear them through their headsets. The company manage a tricky subject well, even providing moments of unexpected comedy and giving convincing, slick performances.

If I required proof that the portrayals were accurate, it was provided by the constant interjections of the real councillor Ian Rathbone, who sat behind me in awe of his onstage incarnation. Sadly, this wasn’t a silent awe and his very vocal amazement was certainly annoying but it did add a layer of significance to the evening, a constant reminder that this wasn’t just a story; this happened, this was real.

The recreation of the riots, and the community tensions that were aired in the days following them, hit home in this North London theatre. The recognition that the distrust, disconnection and dissemblance we saw onstage are still a part of our city weighed heavily on our shoulders. However, the ‘realness’ was also part of the problem, as Blythe seemed to use it to stand in for a satisfying dramatic arc. The play, while an interesting record of the social climate following the riots, falls into the trap of a lot of verbatim theatre in that it lacks any narrative shape. Rather than offering insight into the people of London – what divides us, and what brings us together – it tried to be an all-encompassing historical document, the sum effect of which was underwhelming.

Though the staging was fluid and engaging (the ensemble moved through the audience and even staged a riot in the theatre’s trendy foyer) and the acting was polished, this production never grabbed me. As a born and bred (and proud) Londoner, I enjoy watching my city on stage – warts and all. However, this verbatim play – while in-depth – neither quite gets beneath the skin of the issues it raises nor fully absorbs the audience with a substantial story arc.

Author: Alecky Blythe
Director: Joe Hill-Gibbins
Producer: Almeida Theatre
Box Office: 020 7359 4404
Booking Link: https://tickets.almeida.co.uk/PEO/show_events_list.asp?shCode=330
Booking Until: 4 October 2014

About Anna Forsyth

Anna Forsyth
Writer. Anna is a born, and bred Londoner who lost herself up North for a few years, and then got really lost – all the way to Canada. The way to Anna’s theatrical heart is Pinter, onstage gore, or a tall leading man with a Welsh accent. When she’s not out enjoying Shakespeare or something equally cultural, you’ll find her yelling at the TV at Arsenal/Vancouver Canucks/England Cricket Team/her favourite poker players. Two arts degrees have not stopped her from loving cheesy musicals.