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Review Round-up: Plaudits for Tricycle's Riots

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Nicolas Kent kicked off his final season in charge of Kilburn's Tricycle Theatre last night (22 November, previews from 17 November) with The Riots, Gillian Slovo's documentary examination of the riots that spread across London and the UK earlier this year.

Kent and Slovo were part of the team responsible for the acclaimed Guantanamo - Honor Bound to Defend Freedom (2004), which transferred from the Tricycle to the West End and New York and was performed at the Houses of Parliament and in Washington’s Capitol Hill.

The Riots draws on everything from “tweets by taxi drivers, to moment-by-moment accounts by riot police” in an attempt to build a “real-time picture of the riots as they unfolded”. It continues until 10 December.

Michael Coveney

"When the summer riots spread to Hackney, the cry went up, ‘Don’t touch the Empire!’ The theatre was seen as a place of good work and community value by the very people who were vandalising property and looting the shops outside. This is one of many valuable nuggets in The Riots, a skilful verbatim documentary compiled by Gillian Slovo from spoken evidence; she made direct contact with rioters, police officers, community workers and local politicians, including Diane Abbott, Michael Gove, Simon Hughes and Iain Duncan Smith … Is it theatre? Up to a point, though it’s not what you’d call “a show” any more than were the previous Tricycle enquiries into Stephen Lawrence, Hutton, the Nuremberg Trials, or Guantanamo … Instead, we have theatre as tribunal, a sort of carefully shaped and extended BBC discussion programme to satisfy the liberal breast-beating classes."

Charles Spencer
Daily Telegraph

"You have to take your hat off to the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn. It is a little over three months since the riots turned English streets into battle zones between outmanoeuvred police, disaffected youth and opportunistic looters and already the Trike has produced a thought provoking and admirably even-handed play on the subject … We hear from politicians, ranging on the political spectrum from Michael Gove to Diane Abbott; from coppers who were on the spot when the riots began in Tottenham following a protest about the police shooting of Mark Duggan; from community leaders and from the rioters themselves. Between them a cast of 14 play more than 30 real-life characters … Nicolas Kent directs a production of admirable fluency, using captions to supply statistics and introduce us to those who are speaking … It has to be said that we are bombarded with so many facts and so many opinions that it is sometimes hard to keep up with it all … But the play is finally as remarkable for what it omits as for what it contains."

Henry Hitchings
Evening Standard

"For obvious reasons, few of the rioters have volunteered accounts of their activities. So, while we do hear from a handful of nameless shady characters, most of the testimony comes from community leaders, youth workers and police officers, as well as a civil liberties lawyer and several MPs … Nicolas Kent's production is panoramic and has some striking performances … The material is resonant. There are reflections on postcode rivalries, youth unemployment and modern policing techniques … The result is an absorbing experience, albeit ultimately a dispiriting one. In the absence of a public inquiry into the unrest, The Riots proves an even-handed alternative, sure to provoke arguments and renewed anxiety about today's confused, angry, frustrated young people and their mounting sense of social injustice.”

Libby Purves
The Times

"As the director Nicolas Kent points out, the Government has refused a public inquiry, so it’s up to the Trike. Gillian Slovo collated a mass of spoken evidence, and boiled it down to a tight two hours of disbelieving, angry, baffled, smug, or thoughtful memory. The riots are a Rorschach blot: bleeding-heart liberals or militant disciplinarians draw opposite morals and get nowhere. What’s valuable is the fascinating detail … The second, reflective act reveals a baffled establishment. We have Diane Abbott, played with wicked smugness by Dona Croll, opining that it was a classic race riot (though more white than black were arrested). She then mysteriously calls for heavy sentences. We have a daffy caricature of Mr Gove, and several judges being barmily exemplary with repentant, confused petty offenders. The production offers no answer, though it inclines gracefully to the Left, and Selva Rasalingham is most striking as the quiet Muslim burnt out in the carpet warehouse fire. But I would have liked to hear the small, ruined shopkeepers, and the many equally poor kids who backed off and did no harm."

Michael Billington

"Once again, the theatre steals a march on officialdom. In the absence of any full public inquiry into the August riots, the Tricycle commissioned Gillian Slovo to create a verbatim piece on the events and their possible causes … You get a plurality of views, but what emerges is a widespread sense of people, and not just the young, seeking revenge on an unjust society. It is fascinating. But is it theatre? I would offer a resounding ‘Yes’ because one of the medium's many functions, apart from giving ecstasy and entertainment, is to offer information and provoke debate … From a 14-strong cast, I would single out Steve Toussaint, lending authority to a consultant on racial equality who, asked to sum up the rioters in three words, says ‘frustrated, angry and British’; Cyril Nri as a black police superintendent; and Kingsley Ben-Adir as a youth worker.”


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