In the aftermath of the riots that swept through England in August 2011, Gillian Slovo and Cressida Brown’s edited highlights, The Riots (Tricycle Nov 2011), taken from verbatim testimonies marked a remarkable turnaround in material gathering.
It told a pessimistic story, an account of resentment in an English society riven by growing economic disparities and class and racial divisions.
Three years later comes Alecky Blythe’s more personal account of the disturbances in her home patch of Hackney in London’s East End.
Blythe has carved out a neat, highly lucrative little niche in verbatim theatre using a specialised system whereby actors speak the actual lines of those interviewed through an ear piece, copying rhythm, intonation, tone, the lot.
It should make for a greater sense of actuality. In this case, though, the trick has backfired. Little Revolution tells us little we didn’t already know and although there are plenty of real life characters on Ian MacNeil’s square, in-the-round, excitingly transformed Almeida stage (how good to see it used differently), few of them come over as flesh and blood people.
As is often the way with Blythe’s work, her real life people become caricatures. Even in the prized London Road, there was often a sense of patronisation. The same is true here of the working class residents of the Pembury Estate, the few local black youths and even the middle class who form themselves into a campaign group to help the local newsagent, Siva, the focal hub of the community.
Blythe has said her piece is all about `community. Ironically, the effect in some areas after the riots was to bring communities closer together. Little Revolution catches some of that more positive spirit. But Blythe’s constant appearance as herself recording as the riots happen – intended perhaps as an ironic aside – proves counter-productive. In comparison with Slovo’s The Riots, the material here feels thin and a bit of a vanity exercise for all the involvement in the production of Islington’s local community as a Community Chorus.
Blythe’s verbatim style is showing signs of the Law of Diminishing Returns. Maybe time to turn to something fresh.