Reviewed – 16th June 2019
“Gregory remains an incredibly watchable and powerful figure on stage”
Just under a year since its mesmerising turn at the King’s Head Theatre, ‘Riot Act’ is on the move. The Arcola Theatre plays host this time for three performances that commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, and the show will soon embark on a UK tour. I reviewed the show last year, and found it powerful, deeply moving and politically rousing. None of that has changed, and the show, along with writer and star Alexis Gregory, have only got better.
This is verbatim theatre utilising personal stories in the best way. Created from hours of interviews, we meet three gay men from three different generations: Michael, one of the last remaining witnesses to the Stonewall Riots; Lavinia, Hackney drag queen of the 70s; and Paul, Act Up activist and successful writer in his own right. These three stories come together to present a powerful collective experience. Struggles with identity and finding community. The freedom of gay liberation post-Stonewall. The unimaginable pain and suffering of the AIDS crisis. These oral histories give us tales beyond the mainstream. They ask us: what does it mean to be gay? What do we know about gay history? Do we take things for granted that in reality aren’t?
Paul’s message about “constant vigilance” seems even more potent in light of recent events. The cancelling of a performance of ‘Rotterdam’ in Southampton after stars Lucy Jane Parkinson and Rebecca Banatvala were pelted with stones. The headline grabbing attack on a London bus of Melania Geymonat and her girlfriend Chris. This show reminds us these aren’t random, but the continuation of a culture of intolerance we all know well. The question is: what can you do to change things?
Gregory remains an incredibly watchable and powerful figure on stage. He morphs effortlessly into the three characters using voice and stance to expertly delineate between them all. His speech rhythms also change – it’s real dedication to character on display here. Rikki Beadle-Blair directs, and the pair play around with lighting to create drama. Beadle-Blair allows Gregory to enjoy the comedic moments – and this audience was loving it. Laughter of surprise and recognition mixes in this vibrant and diverse audience. The show invites conversation. Speak to the person next to you! Ask them questions! Remember your shared history!
In all, ‘Riot Act’ remains one of the best queer shows I’ve seen in London. I’m so glad the rest of the UK will get chance to hear these stories and respond to them. How much are the metropolitan experiences of the men in the show shared by people from across the UK? What parallels will emerge? And what of the future of ‘Riot Act’? Gregory mentioned a ‘women’s riot act’ – so the future looks bright. Beautiful, engaging and moving, I recommend this show to everyone.
Reviewed by Joseph Prestwich
Photography by Dawson James
Arcola Theatre until 30th June then UK tour continues
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: