Little Revolution at the Almeida
Alecky Blythe’s distinctive brand of verbatim theatre returns to the stage in Little Revolution, a retrospective look at the 2011 London riots. Depicting various factions of a Hackney community, the play’s emphasis is on authenticity, with bare staging, a cast of actors repeating real-life dialogue via headsets, and a local community chorus employed to enhance larger scenes.
However, with all the attention paid to capturing the veracity of the voices and characters populating this neighborhood, it’s somewhat frustrating that the play largely ignores the rioters, choosing to focus – predictably – around a small group of middle-class residents, removed from the immediate event.
While the characters are undeniably fascinating – Imogen Stubbs and Michael Shaeffer stand out in their portrayal of yuppie couple Sarah and Tony – listening to them organise a tea party fundraiser for looted shopkeeper Siva (Rez Kempton), while the community chorus looks on in silence, highlights a pertinent question of the play: whose voices are we ignoring and why?
Blythe, playing herself, adopts a morally ambivalent role as a spectator rather than active participant in the events that unfold. But watching her wave a dictaphone around during a time of crisis leads one to question the ethics behind such theatre-making.
Refreshingly, there are many moments of self-awareness, with Blythe caricaturing annoying aspects of her character, and also including inconvenient instances where passers-by ask not to be recorded. But all this is not enough to escape the sneaking suspicion that this play, like the government its characters criticise, is decisively out of touch.
One wonders if Blythe is aware of the condescending nature in which many of her non-white, working-class characters are treated, from the patronising attitude adopted toward Siva (who disappears for much of the play), to a local youth, played by Bayo Gbadamosi, of whom she attempts to take an unsolicited photo. It’s troubling that these characters become no longer people but cogs in Blythe’s artistic endeavour – and Little Revolution begins to feel less like theatre and more like naked exploitation.
Little Revolution is on at Almeida Theatre until 4th October 2014, for further information or to book visit here.