In new play Little Revolution at the Almeida Theatre, Alecky Blythe takes her audience deep inside the events and aftermath of the London riots of August 2011. Blythe may not be a name on everyone’s tongue, but may well be soon. Her last production London Road was a musical about the Ipswich serial murders; it received critical acclaim at the National Theatre and a film version is on the way featuring Tom Hardy and Olivia Colman.
Before we get to this new play’s many clever and affecting touches, here’s a reminder of the sights and one musician’s sentiments during the disturbances.
Blythe’s verbatim technique sees her actors reproducing statements she captured on her Dictaphone. As if in some kind of silent disco, they all wear earphones attached to devices which allow them to revivify the words, accents and, importantly, the emotions recorded at the time. We see the actors but we hear and feel the person who stood in front of Blythe years ago. (She was introduced to this documentary technique by Mark Wing-Davey, best known as The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy’s two-headed Zaphod Beeblebrox.)
Blythe herself appears throughout the proceedings interacting with the cast. A playwright planting herself in the middle of her own production would seem hubris to some but she plays a vital role, providing not just necessary exposition but one of the few objective viewpoints on display.
Little Revolution relies on a pool of professionally trained actors and people from the community in which the riots took place. Many of the pros take on multiple viewpoints but the sharp characterisations leave no ambiguity about who they are playing. TV impressionist Ronnie Ancona is in her element impersonating various local figures and Imogen Stubbs is both earnest and amusing as Sarah, a middle-class hippy wanting the best for her community. Game of Thrones’s Lucian Msamati (interviewed here) is a steel thread running through this play, holding together some of the weaker scenes with conviction and vigour. From nonchalant barber to barely-comprehensible witness to local rapper, he mainlines each new persona every bit as effectively as the award-winning Tatiana Maslany of Orphan Black fame.
The local performers add grit and vérité, as does the sound and lighting design which dramatically evoke the more heart-pounding moments of Blythe’s re-telling. The auteur doesn’t shy away from thornier issues of race and class; rather, she goes out of her way to talk to many sides of the divided community in order to hear and present their views without commentary or interpretation. Little Revolution makes it clear that there are no easy answers to why the events of summer 2011 occurred but, apart from in the minds of the media, there never were. In showing how the highly varied populace pulled together, Blythe demonstrates the powerful way that humanity can overcome differences, pull together and triumph over tragedy and adversity. Syria, Israel, Palestine, Russia and Ukraine, take note.
Little Revolution continues at the Almeida Theatre, Islington, until Saturday 4 October. Ticket information can be found on the theatre’s website.