Perhaps the most shocking part of this verbatim drama by Gillian Slovo about the recent summer of unrest is the, ooh, 30 seconds or so when it seems like Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove – as portrayed by Rupert Holiday Evans – might be a reasonable, even wise human being.
‘The riots were like a Rorschach test,’ he comments, ‘we all saw what we wanted to see in them, and duly rehearsed the positions we already held.’ As it turns out, he’s quoting his wife, and Gove swiftly goes on to make a tit out of himself by suggesting declining membership of the Scouts might be to blame for it all.
But Mrs Gove has a point, and in the first half of this lean, lively two-hour drama, Slovo and director Nicolas Kent make the pragmatic decision to avoid the bigger picture and focus on a blow-by-blow documentary analysis of the events of August 6 2011, when a protest at Tottenham Police Station against the killing of Mark Duggan boiled over into four nights of looting and violence.
With members of the Tottenham black community on the right of Polly Sullivan’s simple circular set and police on the left, a lucid picture is sketched of a perfect storm, fed by simmering racial tensions and the failure of the police to enter into a dialogue with Duggan’s family or control the crowd when things started to turn ugly.
The second half widens the scope to offer a plurality of opinions on the causes and legacy of the riots from across the social and political spectrum. It’s engrossing stuff, if distinctly Rorschach-ian.
Though perhaps limited by not being legally allowed to speak to many actual rioters, Slovo’s drama offers a punchy, well-acted, liberal-slanted but bullshit-free explanation of precisely how the events of August began. If nothing else, it’s a clearheaded riposte to suggestions that they simply appeared out of nowhere.