This review was originally written for The Public Reviews.
Three years after the London riots which brought much soul searching for the community and people affected, Alecky Blythe’s verbatim play aims to bring the reaction of the community in Hackney both during and after the riots. Blythe plays herself in the play as the writer recording interviews with local youths, shop owners and in meetings with the local community to try and heal the wounds.
The large cast, each of whom wears an earpiece which they re-enact the recording, is a mix of professional actors and volunteers from Islington, Hackney and surround areas. They mingle with the audience in the foyer before the show and gather in the modified stage at the center of the theatre surrounded by the audience as it starts. The ramshackled set is harshly lit by fluorescent strip lights and feels like a community hall with stacked plastic chairs. It is surrounded by chipboard covering the walls, as if it is after the looting, though the effect is underwhelming.
The nature of a verbatim play means the conversations are scattered and people talk over one another other. The editing gives fragmented snippets of interviews and nonlinearity of events and the abrupt scene change can be disorientating. There are the odd interesting comments questioning police tactics/strategies, social segregation, inequalities and some first hand rioting moments, but they are lost among the cumbersome format. Some hints of interesting personalities show through though there is not enough time given to them to amount to anything.
It has been proven this format can work with suitable editing and subject matter. This production, with its dynamic pacing and broad number of interviewees does give a good overview on the subject. Though the effort feels half hearted. The focus is too broad by trying to bring an overview of the community and attempting to shed light onto the cause and reaction of the riots is one aim too many. Even Blythe herself admitted as much in the play that she shelved this project until it was resurrected by Almeida, and by then the immediacy has passed. The end result means that even at one hour thirty minutes, it feels long and full of fillers.
Photo Manuel Harlan