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Riot Night, The Old Frizzle

Hugh Janes
Directed by Robert Young

Pros: Some nice performances, particularly from Alex Williams. Fantastic idea for a show.

Cons: Never quite becomes totally immersive. Sometimes feels a little overdone.

Our Verdict: An important production which is likely to become more subtle and immersive as the run progresses. Worth making a detour to see!

Riot Night, 12-15 November 2012

This is the second production I’ve seen recently dealing with last year’s London Riots, but I must confess that I am not the most qualified audience member to review these shows. In early August 2011, I set out on a cycling expedition starting in London and aiming for Berlin. We had no means of communication with Blighty, and it wasn’t until we got to Brussels on day five that we finally sat down with a Trappiste beer and turned on the TV. It was of course with some surprise that we were greeted with scenes of destruction and devastation in London. It was completely surreal, but by the time I returned victorious from Berlin a month later, everything had calmed down again.

It seemed completely baffling that these riots had ever taken place, and I couldn’t help but shake the feeling that perhaps the whole thing had been an elaborate and expensive practical joke orchestrated by my co-blogger James… Nonetheless, I have always felt that it is important to understand exactly happened during that week. Whether you were directly affected by the Riots or not, it is important to appreciate what it was like at the time for the local communities. And this is why productions like Riot Night are important.

Riot Night is the definition of site-specific theatre. Borne out of collaboration between pub owner Livelyhood, prolific screen and stage writer Hugh Janes and BAFTA award winning director Robert Young, the production is set in a pub, with the audience sitting at the tables and at the bar, at the start of a pub quiz. When a policewoman walks in and tells the landlord and bar staff that the riots are spreading their way, and that they ought to close, the audience realise that they have been transported back to the 8th of August 2011, and are reliving what it was like for business owners and patrons at that very time.

Although this show has a great idea behind it, as well as a stellar production team, it does seem to have an edge missing – a certain fluidity which would push the show over the boundary between being atmospheric and becoming totally immersive. I’d like to put it down to the fact that this was an early performance in Riot Night’s run. As the cast progress and become more comfortable with the lack of a stage, I believe this could become an astounding piece of site-specific theatre. I realise that this is a big ask – immersive theatre is not easy to do – but we know such productions are possible; we were recently treated to a perfect example in Jack the Ripper’s London.

Riot Night already contains some great performances. James Kennan as the landlord of the pub and host of the quiz, is charismatic and energetic – a pleasure to watch. Fawn James, Edward Mitchell and Lizzie Stables are also great, each playing regulars who were there on the night, as so was Kate Young, the snide barmaid. For me however the standout performance came from Alex Williams, who plays a local shop owner helping to defend the pub. Williams delivers a poignant performance, and his scene with one of the rioters was almost certainly the most convincing part of the production, one where the audience really are on edge as to what could happen next.

All in all, Riot Night was an engaging show which just falls short of becoming a totally immersive piece. The idea behind it is great, but there is still a certain fluidity missing, which we hope will come naturally over the course of the run. It is also an important production for anyone even indirectly affected by the events of last year. Judging by the buzz they’ve created, tickets won’t be available for Riot Night for long, so make sure you book yours early!

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Riot Night only has three scheduled performances, with the last being on 15th November 2012 at Royal Oak in Clapham.
For more information and to book tickets, visit

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