The Riot Act at Hackney Empire online
Alexis Gregory’s Riot Act sees a digital reimagining this February to celebrate LGBT History Month. Born out of his interviews with Stonewall survivor Michael-Anthony Nozzi, a radical drag artist in Lavina Co-op, and AIDS activist Paul Burston, Gregory takes on three different characters and stories, all tied together by the fight for survival and the chaos surrounding LGBTQ+ activism and Stonewall. Opening with a behind-the-scenes preview of Gregory prepping for the performance, the actor looks into the mirror as if reflecting on the sixty years of history he is about to embark on, encouraged by the clothes and make-up surrounding him. Then all of a sudden, everything flashes to show time on stage.
Gregory’s script is descriptive and raw, carrying the heavy weight of the message and storytelling. Even with only himself visible on-screen, the depiction of the places and the experiences is so vivid. Despite the material offering such powerful words on their own, nothing sells it better than Gregory’s performance. In the way he carries himself and every transition from one character to another, his delivery is totally on the mark, creating an atmosphere solely through the tone of his voice. It’s absolutely amazing how expressive his eyes are, seamlessly moving between emotions – from mirth and nostalgia to sadness and horror.
Well-used phrases like “perfect storm” and “outside looking in” are a constant, used to personalise the experiences to each individual. When paired with lines such as, “We weren’t saying we’re gay, we just were gay” and “Being yourself, why is that political?”, these statements enhance the very real struggle that the community endured back then, and continue to face, even now. Speech work is tailored specifically to each of the three individuals, allowing the viewers to identify with each of them separately, yet the overall message remains crystal-clear and homogenous. It also helps that the camera angles coincide with certain words, furthering the effect and making use of the cinematic set-up.
There’s plenty of symbolism in the aesthetics of this performance: the movement from stage to the streets highlights the contrast between fighting for rights then to now – a central theme in the stories. The cyclical structure is just one of the many ways that further this juxtaposition. Everything starts and ends with that one evocative line, “There was something about gays and Judy Garland.”
The Riot Act is at Hackney Empire online from 1st February until 28th February 2022. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.