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Some thoughts on some riots

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Back in London for a few days for a family birthday. Like most of us, I've been so shocked and so desperately sad to see the news of riots in the home city that I love - to the point that it was hard to engage with the Festival.

Call me Pollyannaish (and I know some will, quite possibly including members of my cast!) but I simply won't believe people take to rioting, lawlessness and inflicting pain and damage on their fellows unless they are frightened, undervalued and un-listened-to. We all, often, make bad or selfish choices out of laziness or cowardice or casual greed, but no-one makes an evil choice lightly. I was horrified to hear on the news today of the pensioner who was killed defending his block of flats from arsonists. But it does beg the question, what made the arsonists be arsonists - or killers? What other choices did they have? Were they reasonable choices? We always do have a choice, yes - but those of us (myself included) who are fortunate enough to have meaningful work, (just...) enough to live on, enough interest, respect, love and money to make life generally bearable, rarely encounter choices as stark as those who felt - for whatever reason, understandable or not - that hurting others was the only way to be heard or noticed. I've said this a lot in the past few weeks in interviews about the production of Medea I'm directing at the Festival - when people ask, why this play, now, I answer, because if you take a person, in all their richness and complexity and possibility and eagerness, and you stop them being able to have a meaningful existence, you turn that person into a bomb. This is the 2500 year old story of Medea, and this has been happening as a social trend for a while in the UK. It is terrifying and awful to see that bomb start to explode here, now.

This isn't a case of party politics - much as I loathe him, this was going on long before Cameron's government - in 2007 I directed a show in Edinburgh called Pramface, written by and starring Lizzie Hopley, about the (then) new phenomenon of "chav" jokes, and particularly about the way women's magazines were promoting a form of social racism, where it was fine for middle class women to laugh at and judge characteristics of working class women. The plot was (in a very brief reduction) this: a fiercely bright, very unsocialised and uneducated girl, whose cultural world came from celebrity magazines and reality TV shows, tries to understand why she and her kind are being vilified - everyone assumes she is stupid and ignore-able, until she wreaks her bloody revenge on a womens' magazine editor.

It was a show I was really proud of, and did really well. It seemed to chime with audiences, it toured for some time, then like all things it came to an end. It was only when the riots started this week that I realised I had chosen to do Medea, at the same festival, several years later, out of exactly the same distress. I have traveled a lot in the interim - there's substantial things in my input into Medea which come from a more global perspective - but it's a deep-breath-and-a-coffee moment, to realise nothing much has changed on the home front.

Dear Londoners (and Mancunians, and Brummies, and goodness knows where else it has started) please keep safe, keep strong, keep proud. There are other ways. And we do have a society and a culture worth preserving. We all need to listen more. And talk more sincerely. Please let this be a warning heeded, not a provocation to further damage.

Ok - this is heavy weather for a blog about the Festival. (And I'd talk about the heavy weather we've been having, it's just that we're all sick to death of hearing about it, let alone being soaked to the skin by it...) So here are two shows I've seen in the past few days that are Reasons To Be Cheerful:

Mat Riccardo - Three Balls and a New Suit at Voodoo Rooms at 9.30 pm (1 hr). I first saw Mat do his simply astounding cigar-box trick at the Bethnal Green Working Men's Club a year or so ago. The man is probably the best juggler you will ever see. On that bill, a year ago, he wasn't talking. In this show, he is, and - luckily - it turns out he can. A funny, wry, classy show where the feats are superhuman but the performer is brave enough to be entirely human. The tricks were astonishing in the moment, the talk made me think for days after.

And Andrew O'Neill's standup show at the Bosco Tent, Assembly Gardens, at 10.30 pm (1hr) is a gorgeously silly, bonkers, high-octane hug of a show which is the perfect antidote to all the vileness the news and the weather can collectively throw at us. As a young straight transvestite comic he must be sick to death of allusions to Eddie Izzard, but they do have a similar, generous, mad-but-accurate, big-kid-in-a-sweetshop quality. So he talks like Izzard, looks like the love child of Sue Perkins and Jerry Sadowitz (anyone else intrigued about how that one happened...?), and plays a mean guitar. Joy.

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