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A CurtainUp London Review
In 2011 several areas of London were subject to riots, looting and buildings and cars being set on fire after the shooting by police of Mark Duggan in Tottenham on 4th August. It is the recordings made during the rioting and afterwards in Hackney which form the basis of Little Revolution.
The events of that August saw police initially not getting involved and a consequent break down of law and order. Five people died before extra police were called in and the looting stopped, though having spread to other cities outside London. Information about which shopping areas were to be targeted next was by Blackberry Messenger. 685 people had been arrested by 10th August, 2000 by 12th August, two days later, the fire brigade received 2,169 calls on 9th August..
Introducing her piece Blythe tells us that all the actors, supplemented by a large chorus from the community, have earpieces into which are fed the actual recordings and they will reproduce in tone, accent and delivery what they hear. So it is that we have Alecky herself with her nervous giggle, a tendency to laugh when she isn't quite sure how to take what is happening in the course of her interview. There is a close call when she has to convince a rioter that she isn't taking pictures of him. It is at a point when her mobile phone has stopped working.
The Almeida has been reconfigured for this evening into in the round seating but with the makeshift appearance of scaffolding bolted together and lots of bare wood on view. There are moments of real excitement when we hear off stage shouting and crashing but cannot see who is creating the commotion.
Much of the verbatim content is provided by the residents of Clapton Square, a pretty garden square of five story nineteenth century houses, gentrified and occupied by largely middle class or professional class residents. A meeting is hosted by Sarah and Tony (Imogen Stubbs and Michael Shaeffer), the well meaning white liberal residents, with hippie leanings, of Clapton Square to support Siva (Rez Kempton) the Asian shopkeeper of their local newsagents and off licence who has had his shop looted. It is frankly embarrassing to listen to their comments about the situation. When Sarah, flower in her hair, assorted ethnic garments, apologises and says, "I'm really worried that we might sound the most terrible middle class . . . " she is at least self aware.
Another thread comes from the residents of the Pembury Estate, local authority flats the British equivalent of the projects. Here two women talk about the "Stop and Search" laws which have young black men stopped by the police on suspicion that they may be carrying drugs or stolen property. Here Ronni Ancona brilliantly plays Jane the white mother of a mixed race male teenager. She is articulate about the underlying cause of the riots but again her accent divides her from most of the residents of the Pembury Estate although she clearly doesn't identify with the Clapton Square professionals.
Lucian Msamati plays the barber who says of the youth, "It was the first chance to express themselves to a wider community". Rufus Wright plays various characters, including a bemused German journalist who looks at the handing out of "muffins". Barry McCarthy is a befuddled, inarticulate local councillor and Lloyd Hutchinson, the Church of England vicar of the church near Clapton Square.
The people we hear too little from are the rioters themselves, maybe there is a reluctance to speak frankly to Alecky in the middle of criminal activity has something to do with this. Despite lasting only 85 minutes, the piece seems to drag with no new revelations. What is there is a picture of an area divided, despite the feel good efforts of the Clapton Square tea party.
I suspect the main achievement of Little Revolution<>/i> is a bringing together of the Community Chorus and bringing them inside the Almeida Theatre to take part and get involved in theatre. This is wonderful for the participants but not so great for the audience. Maybe one of them will go on to write a play about the events of August 2011? (Note: this is happening in gentrified Islington rather than at the Hackney Empire or the Arcola, Hackney's local theatres.)
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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