Little Revolution

Theatre, Drama
4 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

A harsh, funny look at the London riots and Hackney's divided community

Little by name, little by nature: pioneering verbatim playwright Alecky Blythe follows her ground-breaking ‘London Road’, with a far shorter affair that takes the nationwide phenomena of the 2011 riots and views them through the prism of a single, divided community – that of Clarence Road in Hackney.

Directed with freewheeling virtuosity by Joe Hill-Gibbins, ’Little Revolution’ is a funnier, crueller and bleaker play than its predecessor, one that rather cold-bloodedly skewers the middle classes of Hackney and their lack of meaningful commitment to the wider community. And first up for a skewering is the playwright, who plays herself onstage (a logical extension of the verbatim theatre method, as all the play’s lines are taken from field interviews she conducted during and after the riots).

Loudly grumbling when her camera phone plays up just as she’s trying to photograph a burning car, Blythe epitomises the voyeuristic dimension to the riots, something compounded when she joins the media feeding frenzy surrounding Siva, a Clarence Road shopkeeper who became a cause célèbre when well-heeled Clapton Square residents held a fundraiser to repair his riot-trashed minimart.

But it’s the folk of the Square – ie the rich side of Clarence Road – who come across worse. A bunch of droning, monied liberals epitomised by Michael Shaeffer’s hilariously excruciating Tony, they raise the cash to repair the shop, but in doing so they hideously patronise Siva himself. Moreover, they rebuff the overtures of Stop Criminalising Hackney Youth, a grassroots organisation born on the Pembury estate (the ‘poor’ side of the street) that represents the only group with any sort of long view on the root causes of the riots. The community fails to unite, and three years later, no social change has been effected.

Brief and rather bleak, what really prevents this short play from being a minor one is Hill-Gibbins’s superb direction. Reconfiguring the Almeida as a sort of scruffy, in-the-round youth centre, his professional cast – all playing multiple roles – is excellent. Key, though, is the large, non-professional ‘community chorus’, a huge corps of outreach programme-sourced amateur actors who fill the theatre with dynamic motion and a sense of living, breathing community. Hill-Gibbins uses their numbers to simulate the chaos of the riots themselves. But perhaps the most audacious gesture is to use them as a symbol of hope. We fucked up – but maybe they won’t.



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