Riot Act at King’s Head Theatre
Written and performed by Alexis Gregory, Riot Act tells the stories of three gay men: Michael, who is “probably the last remaining survivor of Stonewall”, Hackney’s radical drag icon Lavina Co-Op and ACT-UP AIDS activist Paul Burston.
This piece of verbatim theatre is reconstructed from interviews Gregory conducted with the men. As their words are channelled through the actor’s performance the audience are immersed in the chaos of a riot, the heartbreak of a funeral in the 80s or even just the terror of walking down a street in drag.
Often political, the piece touches on everything from debates around direct action to feminism and the erasure of lesbian activism. Crucially though, the play brings out wonderfully how these characters are more than their past, more than their political activism and even more than their queerness. They are people, with hopes, dreams and feelings.
The script makes brilliant use of throw-away, pre and post-interview dialogue to bring the men firmly into the room. Whether it’s Michael’s companion who is not to be disturbed or Lavina’s surprise that Alexis doesn’t drink herbal tea, these asides help to fully realise the trio of personalities on stage. Combined with excellent direction from Rikki Beadle-Blair, Gregory’s performance and changes in costume and lighting give the impression of three distinct voices. As a result, the anguish of the men is more heartbreaking, their stories more vivid, their voices angrier and louder and their humour more tender.
When the characters speak about their youth, it is as if they are there on stage, with the actor’s youthful body as their own. Even more powerful, though, is the disconnect created when the subjects speak as themselves in 2018. They each talk of the need to remember what previous generations did, to avoid complacency about LGBT rights now and to respect older queer people in a culture often focused on youth and beauty. The disconnect between the young man on stage and the words he delivers forces the audience to question who really gets to speak and who is heard.
This production is powerful, heart-wrenching, thought-provoking, insightful, warm – and funny too.
Photo: Dawson James
Riot Act is at King’s Head Theatre from 31st July until 5th August 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.