Review: Little Revolution

This is really not the riot I was expecting


Since Rupert Goold took over the reins at the Almeida a year ago, every production has felt like the coolest, most must-see show in London. Even the 25-year-old novel, American Psycho, seemed freshly minted after being given the Almeida treatment. So it is a surprise to find that this latest work by Alecky Blythe about the much more recent 2011 riots feels so stale.

Blythe is the actor/writer whose verbatim interviewing techniques were the cornerstone for London Road, one of the National's most inventive offerings over the Hytner era. Like that show, Joe Hill-Gibbins's production - which turns the Almeida's auditorium into an echoey community hall - feels for a while as if it is on the cutting edge of theatrical evolution.

During the meltdown of law and order, Blythe had the presence of mind to go to Hackney and, at some personal risk, record interviews with those taking part in, or watching the riots. She later returned to witness the community's attempt at rebuilding. So her play's opening scene is a thrilling, slightly mind-expanding piece of theatre in which Blythe, playing herself, explains to her interviewees, played by actors, how she, they and their voices will be represented on stage when her material is turned into a play.

Little Revolution is brimful of character observation, from hooded "gangstas" with looted booty to Hackney's calm rector Father Rob; from the BBC radio documentary journalist who can't help but be ever so slightly Alan Partridge, to the teenage girls who watch their neighbourhood burn.

Much of this show's power lies in individual portraits and the forensically noted verbal ticks, hesitations, repetitions and mannerisms that are all part of being human. In an Alecky Blythe verbatim play, everyone is little more than the sum of a few eccentric parts - even Alecky Blythe. In her own version of herself, she is likeable and brave though annoyingly ditzy.

None of this mattered in London Road, her most celebrated work, because the techniques were musicalised in a way that expanded theatrical possibility. But here on their own, playwriting is reduced to not much more than an exercise in editing. True, there are some pertinent observations revealing a London divided by class, not just income. But nagging questions persist. One is that in an area known for its large black population, most of the post-riot rebuilders represented are white. Can this be right?

If it is - and I bet it's not - the play hasn't the balls or the ability to address a race dimension about riots that at the time were almost celebrated for being an example of racially inclusive London.

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