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The Riots, Tricycle Theatre | reviews, news & interviews

The Riots, Tricycle Theatre

The Riots, Tricycle Theatre

New verbatim drama offers a fascinating instant response to this summer’s madness

Hot topic: Christopher Fox, Kingsley Ben-Adir and Selva Rasalingam in ‘The Riots’Tristram Kenton

Ever since 9/11, political theatre has mobilised the techniques of verbatim drama, and the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn, north London, has an impressive reputation for its tribunal plays, often staging the proceedings of judicial enquiries. Earlier this year, they bought us Tactical Questioning: Scenes from the Baha Mousa Inquiry.

Now, as an instant response to this summer’s disturbances and apparently provoked by outrage at the Government’s unwillingness to hold a public enquiry, comes The Riots, which opened last night.

Written by journalist Gillian Slovo, who was part of the team responsible for Guantanamo: Honor Bound to Defend Freedom (a big hit on both sides of the Atlantic), the play offers a bold panorama of civil disaffection. Following the shooting by the police of Mark Duggan, there were riots in Tottenham, north London, which in subsequent days spread all over the capital, and to some other parts of the country. The looting, arson and disorder during 6-10 August this year was so bad that it quite spoilt David Cameron’s holiday (he had to fly back home).

A mother tests looted kids shoes on her child, looters cook hamburgers in McDonald’s

The first half of The Riots - which is based on Slovo’s extensive interviews with many participants and observers - gives the story of the initial Tottenham protest at Duggan’s death, a small demonstration which was mishandled by the police, and the gradual escalation into widespread disorder. Amid the testimony, cars burst into flame and video images of looting and arson are projected on the back wall of the stage. Useful maps help to make sense of confused events.

There is a density of detail that is compelling: members of the community recognise youngsters they’d last seen in school, Muslims break their Ramadan fast and then go out, youth spoil for a fight, and a feeling of heat and war. A mother tests looted kids shoes on her child, looters cook hamburgers in McDonald’s. Police drafted in from other areas have to use an A-Z to find their way around London. A former Olympic Ambassador makes her point. There’s plenty of evidence of emotion: adrenaline highs and the stomach-churning fears of the police and victims of arson. The carnival atmosphere is neatly conveyed, as well as the joys of shopping without money.

In the second half, the play offers a wider perspective of the riots in the context of police stop-and-search practices, and their attitude to youth. Popular anger against the boys in blue gets an airing, the issue of youth unemployment is discussed and the reasons for the violence and looting are once again kicked around. Community leaders such as Stafford Scott and Martin Sylvester Brown mix with anonymous rioters, while politicians such as Michael Gove and Iain Duncan Smith confidently show how out of touch they are. Familiar London faces such as Diane Abbott MP (played by Dona Croll, pictured above right) and Camila Batmanghelidjh get a laugh of recognition.

Slovo has done a fine editing job and her assembled evidence tells a good story which has the smoky smell of truth. Director Nicolas Kent uses a large cast to present the fascinating material in a cool, restrained way, with powerful sound effects and dramatic video clips. The acting is uniformly solid, with everyone adopting the interviewee’s fallback position of calm explication. Luckily, the material is interesting enough to survive dead-pan delivery. The Riots is both an enthralling discussion and a powerful reminder of the anger boiling up in society today.

  • The Riots is at the Tricycle Theatre until 10 December
Police drafted in from other areas have to use an A-Z to find their way around London


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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The media are too conservative and insensitive to minorities. Waffling on about a few dead squadies, compared to the genocide that went on in the middle east. And ass-holes like Nick Whitchel of the BBC, making out the parasite Royals are saints or something. When millions are unemployed or on very low wages.

I say, steady on with your criticism of the media! Next you'll be ranting about the media's role in promoting (certainly not questioning) dangerous and paranoid conspiracy theories - such as the Bush/ Blair unfounded conspiracy theory that Saddam and his regime were conspiring in secret to amass WMD's and that they posed and immediate threat to the west. As we all know, this particular conspiracy theory was proven to be fraudulent. Yet this conspiracy theory led to war crimes (such as 'genocide' and 'the destruction of a nation') which continue to this day, as recently recognised by the war crimes tribunal in Malaysia which found Bush and Blair guilty - a fact the media is also failing to report on. But to be fair, 'The One Show' is an example of high quality infotainment. A bit like Blue Peter, but for adults. Great! And their coverage of polar bears and penguins is unparalleled. All I'm saying is let's not let the media's complicity in war crimes and relentless corporate fascist propaganda cloud our judgment too heavily.

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