Theatre review: Little Revolution at the Almeida, Islington

The shooting of Tottenham’s Mark Duggan proved the final straw for many young people in 2011, as the city descended into the London Riots. Lost amidst the smoke and sirens, however, was the unrest that had been brewing up to this point, as the Almeida’s latest world premiere astutely and emotively investigates.

Little Revolution is based upon the recordings picked up by Alecky Blythe when she travelled the streets of Hackney with a Dictaphone during and following the riots.

Interviewing and observing many of its key figures – from beer-looting high rise kids to bohemian do-gooders – the playwright subsequently arranged her recordings into a short ‘verbatim’ play, brought to life by actors re-voicing the conversations through ear-pieces on stage.

While loosely focusing on the community’s efforts to help devastated shopkeeper Siva (empathetically played by Rez Kempton) rebuild his ransacked convenience store, the play mostly uses recurring vignettes to create a collage of London’s rich multiculturalism – asking us how much divides like race and class matter, and what can be done to help those who are overlooked or prejudiced against.

Suggestions come from every corner: Pembury Estate parents campaign hard against the police’s unfair persecution of their children, while a motley crew led by councillor Ian Rathbone (a lively Barry McCarthy) opts to bring the community together through a Marks & Spencers-sponsored street party.

Set as it is in an Upper Street theatre, much fun is had at the expense of the middle classes. Blythe admirably looks in the mirror for this: unusually starring as herself, she tiptoes recorder-in-tow around the sparsely-scaffolded set, introducing herself to hooding rioters as a lady who ‘writes plays’ – a brave move indeed.

There are plenty of stand-out cameos – many of which come from volunteers of the local community, who perform alongside hired actors. Considering its verbatim basis, the dialogue is surprisingly sharp; after watching horse-mounted policeman storm past beneath booming helicopter surround sound, one tracksuited teenage girl reasonably says: “I don’t see the point of the horses. What are they going to do?”

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Does it actually raise any new questions about the riots? Perhaps not, but as a colourful celebration of inner-city diversity, Little Revolution makes for an enjoyable evening with characters as large as life itself.

Rating: Four out of five stars

Until October 4.

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