Whatever else its merits may be, “The Riots” at the Tricycle Theatre is at least topical.
Disturbances erupted on the streets of London, Manchester and other U.K. cities in August. In September and October, writer Gillian Slovo interviewed people involved in or affected by the unrest, including local residents, activists, rioters, lawmakers and police officers. At the London theater, their responses are delivered verbatim by 14 actors on a simple set with a few chairs and a table.
The first half builds a picture of how the riots started after the police shooting of Mark Duggan, a black man from North London. Among others, we hear from Stafford Scott (played by Steve Toussaint), a friend of Duggan’s and a consultant on racial equality, and Chief Inspector Graham Dean (Tim Woodward), who was in charge of the local police station. Their names are flashed up on a screen behind the actors.
Scott led a demonstration to the police station to get answers about the shooting. He makes statements about police mismanagement of the march, including the claim that they left their cars unattended as traffic blockers. The situation began to turn nasty, he says, when youths started attacking these vehicles and weren’t stopped by police, who were watching.
Eyewitness accounts follow. Most affecting is that of resident Mohamed Hammoudan (Selva Rasalingam), who lost his home in an arson attack.
The second half is more reflective, and collates responses to the events from members of Parliament, convicted rioters and community workers. We hear from Michael Gove, secretary of state for education, and Diane Abbott, the first black woman elected an MP.
Abbott argues that the riots were racially motivated, while others suggest race played only a minor part, if any.
Gove scores a point with an intriguing insight from his wife. “The riots are like Rorschach blots,” he says. “People see in them what they want to see.” He then loses a point with a naive idea that troublemakers might have found a better outlet for their energies by joining the scouts.
The scouts? It makes Marie Antoinette’s cake suggestion sound like an astute political prescription.
It all trundles along breezily. What lets the piece down are moments of lazy journalism. The police, for example, make no reply to Scott’s specific allegations of mismanagement. Were his points put to them? Did they have a right to reply?
It feels as if a piece of the jigsaw is missing, and haste has overcome balanced reporting.
It’s also the case that Scott is by far the main spokesman in the first part of the piece. His narrative, his views and his claim that Duggan was an innocent in the wrong place are prioritized and allowed to stand unchecked.
While everyone else is named on screen, rioters and looters remain anonymous with no tag behind them. In the program, they are called “Man 1,” “Man 2,” and “Man 3.”
The anonymity is understandable. The lack of any identifying tag is more worrying. Are they composites? What’s their background? Where does the evidence come from? Why are they treated differently from MPs and residents?
The Independent Police Complaints Commission has admitted that incorrect information, which suggested that Duggan had fired first on police officers, was given early after the shooting. An investigation is continuing.
There are many questions still to be answered about the riots. Perhaps an over-hasty collection of reportage isn’t the ideal way to tackle them. Rating: **.
Mistaken identities, wild slapstick and audience participation make up the comic world of “One Man, Two Guvnors,” which has transferred from the National Theatre to the West End. Ibsen, it isn’t. Seriously funny, it is.
Francis Henshall (played by James Corden), a tubby good-natured petty hoodlum in Brighton, takes on two jobs at the same time. He becomes a minder for minor crook Roscoe Crabbe, and for fleeing criminal Stanley Stubbers.
That Roscoe Crabbe turns out to be Rachel Crabbe in disguise, and that Rachel is engaged to Stubbers, add to the layers of complications as Henshall tries to keep them from finding out about the other.
The play is based on an 18th-century farce by Goldoni. Playwright Richard Bean updates the action to 1963, and Nicholas Hytner directs the piece to look like a “Carry On” film, complete with bright colors, wild wigs and plenty of sauciness. There are clever pastiche musical numbers too.
It takes a while to get going. When a decrepit 86-year-old inexperienced waiter (Tom Edden) arrives to help Henshall deliver meals to his two bosses, the piece fires into life.
Corden is a delight in the Henshall role, and exploits a repertoire of ticklish gestures including a furious look of concentration followed by a long blink. It works every time.
With a top cast throwing itself into the energy and fun, the play rolls along to a dizzy climax. One man, two guvnors, and two and a half hours of pleasure. Rating: *** ½.
“The Riots” is at the Tricycle Theatre, Kilburn, Information: http://www.tricycle.co.uk or +44-20-7328-1000. “One Man, Two Guvnors” is at the Adelphi Theatre, http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk or +44-20-7452-3000.
(Warwick Thompson is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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