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