Post By RelatedRelated Post
Alecky Blythe’s new production is verbatim theatre in its purest form. Playing real characters at the heart of the London Riots in 2011, actors relay ‘verbatim’ the language, accents, stutters, and timing of recordings that Blythe collected on the streets and in meetings that year. This play sits somewhere between journalism and theatre, dropping the audience directly into the heart of the riots. As a concept it works well, the characters really are brought to life, but the story is perhaps too weak to draw the same acclaim as Blythe’s previous work.
The play is set around Blythe (who plays herself) and her interactions with various characters, who jump in and out of the performance depending on whether they are in earshot of her ubiquitous voice recorder. This manages to create a realistic feeling of chaos that surrounded parts of East and North London: we are aware of those who are close by, but as helicopters ‘roar’ overhead, there is a feeling of insecurity built by the ‘unknown’ outside the perimeter of the sound recorder. This allows Blythe to jump characters in and out – capturing, as a reporter might, snippets of laughter, anger, dismay, and aggression.
But the production is less effective than her previous attempts, and other recent verbatim plays. London Road, which Blythe is making into a film (reportedly due out next year), was a resounding success not only for its realistic relaying of conversations, but also for a strong and relevant storyline.
The slightly flat storyline of a community group attempting to raise funds for a local shop keeper who has been looted during the riots (named Siva, but referred to as ‘Shiva’, ‘Seeva’, ‘Shiver’, and ‘Sive’ by various characters) drains the play of the dramatic effect that that the construct deserved. This is a price that Blythe pays for sticking to the recordings rather than using them as a tool, as Nadia Fall’s Home did at the National earlier this year, or as David Hare has skilfully managed.
A less verbatim production might also have been able to elevate the characters to more rounded and relatable subjects. The characters in Home are no less believable, but extend as dramatic subjects beyond what is achievable in sticking rigidly to short recordings.
The ‘verbatim’ technique follows pioneering work by Blythe herself, David Hare, and Nicolas Kent. Ear pieces relay the recordings to the actors throughout rehearsals and at times during the performance. Blythe is on the purist side, refusing to use any material that has not actually been recorded (although she is happy to squash time-frames, and create dialogues from two monologues.) In Little Revolution, this manages to act as a feature piece might in a broadsheet newspaper: it brings to life the experiences and stories that lie at the heart of an event which had so much media coverage, in a way that traditional media forms might struggle to achieve.
Little Revolution is a realistic, engaging, and interesting insight into the people at the heart of the London Riots. It is often humorous, and more often slightly awkward: the characters are so alive that their shortcomings are painful to watch but at times hilarious. A stronger storyline would have put the production on par with London Road, but worth a look nonetheless.
Little Revolution runs at the Almeida Theatre, Islington, until October 4th. £5 tickets available for concessions for each performance, contact the box office.