King’s Head Theatre
Reviewed – 31st July 2018
“packs an emotional and political punch that will move and inspire”
A powerful, emotional and rousing piece of verbatim theatre, ‘Riot Act’ is by far one of the most moving pieces of new queer writing currently being performed in London. Alexis Gregory, the creator and performer of the piece, has assembled three epic monologues from interviews with three gay men: Michael in New York, who tells of his experience at the Stonewall Riots; Lavinia from Hackney, who recounts their life on the London drag scene; and Paul, a gay rights activist reminiscing about his time on the front line.
All older gay men, these people (characters?) tell stories of amazing scope, encompassing gay liberation, the hedonistic seventies, devasting eighties and nineties, and the freedoms (or, indeed, lack thereof) that were fought for over the past five decades. Legacy and history are important to these men, and all seem impressed in the end that Gregory is taking the time to interview them and hear their stories. People simply “don’t ask”. Is there a link between strong gay male communities and an engagement with the past? ‘Riot Act’ argues there is, and that through understanding the struggles previous generations battled through we can better appreciate what we have now. Peter Tatchell is quoted in Paul’s interview, and the message sticks: vigilance, in a world where gay men still face abuse on a day to day basis (yes, even at 67!), is key. The piece is less a call to arms and more a kind reminder that communities, especially LGBTQ+ ones, are often stronger than individuals alone, and provide a necessary support network we cannot see get lost.
Gregory himself gives a startlingly punchy, grounded and virtuosic performance. Easily sashaying from character to character, a simple change of costume, voice and physicality denotes personality, and in his hands, the monologues become at once powerful, forceful and yet intimately personal. Rikki Beadle-Blair directs Gregory well, drawing out his physicality and strength, as well as the comedy within the monologues.
The impact of these stories was made all the more potent by the interviewees actually being in the audience on opening night. Bringing home the struggles and joys of older gay men’s lives, ‘Riot Act’ packs an emotional and political punch that will move and inspire well beyond it’s closing lines.
Reviewed by Joseph Prestwich
Photography by Dawson James
King’s Head Theatre until 5th August
Also by Alexis Gregory