Riot Acts!

The great thing about scratch performances is that if you see a great show, you might also be lucky enough to have it come round again as a full show. I’m sincerely hoping that this will be the case for the works in Riot Acts, the latest offering from publisher and live literature pioneers, Penned in the Margins.

Riot Acts started as an open call to artists to create pieces in response to the August Riots and the return was magnificent. 30 performers of all kinds came back with proposals and of these, four were chosen to be developed in conjunction with Penned in the Margins and Richmix.

While performances of this nature are primarily entertaining, it seems that this reflection on the riots also sits well in the current mood of political/societal thoughtfulness brought about by the Occupy movement happening around the globe. The acts weren’t only varied in their presentation, but also in their views of the event in question. From stoic dissection of social strata to the pure emotive outburst of just feeling alive in the heart of the conflict.


The show opened with a vivacious and wildly funny performance from the theatre troupe, The Hurly Burly, who have been working with Circus Kinetica to re-envisage the story of Icarus. We were treated to the first 15 minutes of the project and, full to the brim with action, gymnastic delights and humour, that was more than good enough to be a piece in its own right. The full show promises to be a brilliantly entertaining piece of theatre.

As a troupe previously focused on performing within summer festival settings (They run a touring theatre/restaurant in the summers), they have succeeded enormously in bringing their unique style to a surrounding that isn’t their own. Definitely watch out for The Hurly Burly and Birdy, their story based on the Icarus myth.


Performance poet, Luke Wright, is no stranger to topical and heated subject matter. His last show, Cynical Ballads, threw a couple of well crafted stones our current Parliamentary heads. Though, like that poetical display, Revolt also gives the audience a touch of literary instruction. The second half of his show is written in the heroic metre of ottava rima. Not without reason either. The story of Revolt has two centres, the August Riots and the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. Ottava rima was pretty popular with heroic, and then mock-heroic works, around the time of the Peasants’ Revolt, so it seems only fitting.

In a sentence, what is Revolt all about?
The London riots and the peasants revolt, two tales centuries apart.

You’re writing the modern half in ottava rima, a traditionally pretty heroic metre. Is that an element of the story? A heroic figure or a great war perhaps?
There’s a fellow called Nick who’s a journalist and young girl called Lisa Low who gets involved in the riots. They’re no heroes as such but hopefully people will like them.

 It’s great to see you teaming up with Zara Hayes again. What are your roles while working together? How did you come together originally?
I’m words and she’s pictures. For this project she’s mashing up news footage to create a back drop to my poem. Zara and I were teamed up by Channel 4 originally but we hit it off immediately. I love sharing ideas with her, so while she won’t impact directly on the actual writing most of my ideas for the story have come from chats we have.

In your opinion, what was the catalyst that started the riots earlier this year?
I think it’s lots of things, but essentially I believe we have a moral void at the centre of our society. News of MP’s expenses and phone hacking and all the other scandals we’ve had; and the way they are sensationalised mean people have a heightened sense of their importance. Therefore a lot of these kids think all politicians and journalists are bent, so my should they respect the society they represent. They’re wrong of course – not everyone is bad, but that’s how it can seem.

How do you see Revolt expanding? What’s your plan for the final piece?
I want the two poems to interweave, swapping voices very 5 mins or so creating a 50-60 min piece. God knows if that’ll work. It’d be far more formal that most ‘spoken word’ shows, I don’t know whether it’ll be too much for an audience. We’ll see.

Stratford City 2013

Leading the audience through a tragicomic day in the life of a bickering couple, set to the backdrop of a riot in a near future Westfield Shopping Centre, Sophie Woolley paints a scene of ennui turned to carnage. Holding the attention of an audience can be a tricky feat when performing a monologue, but Woolley excels as a solo act. The story unfurls as she rolls through each scene, her character getting more and more agitated, until it explodes into a completely unforeseen climax.

In a couple of sentences could you say what Stratford City 2013 is all about?
A frustrated, aspiring writer escapes her crummy flat and recession ruined life for a bit of mega mall glamour but ends up having a petty domestic with her boyfriend (over a specific product), which dovetails with the outbreak of a mall riot. That description avoids spoilers and giving away the ending, but the monologue has more layers than that.

 As an incredibly accomplished script and screenwriter, your work has often been for a multiple cast. What made you return to the monologue form for Stratford City 2013?
I really love doing monologues.  I should ‘do’ a book of audition monologues for actors at some point. I also wanted to do a piece with some photos sort of like a film by Patrick Keiller. That is the aesthetic I had in my head, but my camera phone images are of shopping. Keiller’s work is powerful, electrifying, witty and informative. I’ve taken some photos and some will be shown with the piece, or before the performance. It won’t be anything like a Keiller film, but that was just one of my many inspirations. Mega malls were another.

The riots earlier this year were an event firmly rooted in the now. What is the effect of setting your piece in the near future? How does it relate back to the riots of the present?
This is a tough one to answer without sounding like a plank. The effect is disturbing and bleak. It is tragicomic.  The piece relates to the August riots in that my fictional riot is initially triggered by police arrest that ends in tragedy.

 How do you see Stratford City 2013 developing? At the heart of it is a bickering couple, so is it a sort of love story? Or is the slightly apocalyptic destruction of the shopping centre surrounding a more important part?
Probably the latter. That is my ‘big idea’. Apocalyptic is the right word. The couple are the ridiculously ill timed love story in the middle of a catastrophe. But it’s not a love story. I will incorporate the shopping photographs into the work, given more time and development.
Score For a Riot
Greg McLaren’s Score for a Riot is probably the hardest piece of the night to explain. The audience is invited to take part in a staged riot. The Conductor leads the piece with verbal cues. The audience members each follow written cues handed to then in sealed envelopes.
The title refers to a musical score and this is subtly reinforced by the piece being structured into three movements. Like the three-movement symphony form that Score for a Riot echoes, it has two frenetic, chaotic sections (one is even called Chaos) with a more introverted, but equally unsettling movement in between.
This piece definitely showed itself as being a scratch performance. Both in the sense that there were some visible kinks that needed ironing out and that it clearly has huge potential to become something really engaging. For a piece so centred on discord, Score for a Riot manages to tread the line between intense performance art and light humour very well. Actions like throwing around fake white spirit are countered by actions like pretending to be a helicopter.
With a little polishing, Score for a Riot will be a fascinating piece to be experience. The next challenge for McLaren, a true multidisciplinary craftsman, is to decide whether he wants the piece to veer towards art or theatre. Both would produce astounding results, but they would be very different pieces. I personally can’t wait to see how it fans out.
Could you describe the premise behind A Score for a Riot? How will the piece be presented?

It’s a series of interconnected clues and cues for an audience to interpret as a riot.  Instructions and suggestions are distributed at the start but are also embedded in the action, creating various feedback loops.  After that, who knows?  There may be smashing of glass, calling of names, bruising, battles of will, we’ll have to see.

As a member of STK International Airport and as an artist in your own right, your work often goes beyond traditional categorisation. If you had to, how would you categorise this piece? 

Most systems of categorisation force divide and insinuate an elite, but unfortunately that’s how it is.

All I do is an experiment.  I take ideas, effects I’d like to make, new ways to engage and audience, and collide them.  I change form and process here and there, trying to find the best way to communicate the idea behind the experiment.  Most of what I do is participatory in some way, and I think that comes from wanting an audience to physically work a little bit in order to get the best out of the experience (I suppose it’s a bit like dancing in that way).  An experiment is much more interesting from the inside than the outside, and I’m trying to find ways to get an audience to acknowledge one another and the power they have as a group of people, both as an audience at that particular moment, and in general.

What was your reaction to the riots earlier this year? What do you think was the catalyst that started the whole thing?

I was in Edinburgh at the time and saw flashes on TV.  I live in Stoke Newington and from what I could gather from the TV and Twitter the action was happening all around.  Streets I cycle down every day were filled with violence and noise, beefed up coppers with dogs and a surprising amount of bystanders.  It didn’t seem particularly real though thanks to the constant news replays of the same helicopter shots of burning buildings and rampaging youth.  By the end it was like a bad music video with bad repetitive lyrics about a London that no-one was surprised to see.  I was trapped in the same circle of condemnation and attempted understanding of the people and behaviour involved as all the other liberals.

As for the catalyst, on a micro level it was probably something as simple as someone picking up a brick, this is the Schelling incident, it’s not a signal to tell people what to do, it’s something that tells people what everyone else will probably do. From there it’s a quick step to suspending a concept of culpability, and a jump into what is probably extremely exciting shouting and destruction.  Zooming out, I think it’s a complete failure on behalf of the state to understand the values of the people that live in this country, especially the poor ones (including artist(e)s, pensioners and the unlucky), that and a permanent feeling of paranoia probably leads one to conclude there isn’t much to lose.  The police also have a lot to answer for, I’ve been stopped and searched a few times (once for being in possession of a riot shield) and they practice a good line in idiotic humiliation, if I were a black youth constantly denigrated by some plodding cop from a force that has a history of racism and accidentally murdering black youths in their custody then I might enjoy kicking back.  Cops and robbers, how sweet would it be without either.
 The word ‘score’ conjures images of a musical manuscript created as instructions for a performance. Is this how you see the work? When does the actual performance happen and who’s in it when it does?
 I want the work to be approached as a score and it’s useful that there are preconceptions around what a score is, anything that defeats the notion that it’s a game is good.  A score may mean different things to different people, there are clear connections to George Brecht and Fluxus for example, but what I’m doing with this one is a bit more prescribed, like a playscript (also a score), there is text and more or less imperative instructions for action.  I hope that a group of people who agree to perform the score take the responsibility for it and agree to let themselves in to the action, and hopefully break out of the confines of the score and start to improvise, going beyond the score.
The performance begins as soon as the group that want to do it are in agreement that it could start at any moment.  The same way a riot begins.  Eventually everyone is in it even those that choose to sit out are included in the score as observers.
Riot Acts! was devised by Tom Chivers (Penned in the Margins) and Russell Bender in association with Richmix.
Photographs by Nick Murray.

One response to “Riot Acts!

  1. Pingback: Penned in the Margins | Riot Acts at Richmix

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