Forget the Avengers, London’s latest superhero epic is a dance extravaganza at The Place

PanicLab's R.I.O.T. Picture: Michael Halliday

PanicLab's R.I.O.T. Picture: Michael Halliday - Credit: Archant

R.I.O.T takes influence from the student riots to examine how we can be heroes in real life, finds Alex Bellotti

Over the last few years, a sure sign that summer is approaching has become the release of another superhero Hollywood blockbuster, but it’s not so often you see them taking to the stage.

On May 27 at The Place, R.I.O.T will see spandex-clad heroes and villains battle for supremacy in a colourful rumination on the constructs of power and storytelling in society.

Created by choreographer Joseph Mercier, in conjunction with his company PanicLab, the idea came from when the 32-year-old persuaded his theatre students at Metropolitan University to attend the 2010 student protests.

“They were stuck in the crowd and I was stuck outside, standing on this little hill on the north side of Parliament Square, watching the police corral all these students,” says Mercier, a Brixton resident.

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“I had this overwhelming feeling of powerlessness, and I wondered what if I was Jean Grey standing on this hill? I could clear the protests and clear the way for democracy.”

Returning to the studio, Mercier began to form the storyline for R.I.O.T, which sees an archetypal comic book nerd narrate his fantasy of becoming a superhero, before his story begins to unravel as the lines between hero and villain blur.

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“I started to think about how we are and aren’t superheroes, when we have agency and when we don’t, where power sits and who holds it,” Mercier says, adding that nothing in the piece is quite original, but rather a mixture of references to comic books, action films and superheroes, with each character aping some of the best known figures.

He explains how the show’s distinctive fight scenes were choreographed by observing mixed martial arts, pro wrestling and the dance movement Flying Low.

“The piece sits somewhere between dance and fighting. We started off trying to stage really realistic film fights but quickly realised that without having all the tools that filmmakers have it just looked really lame, so we had to find a different vocabulary for choreographing.

“We realised quite early in the process that if we take this too seriously we’ll end up with a film that looks a bit like The Dark Knight, where it’s not really about superheroes, it’s just an action film. As soon as we stopped taking it too seriously and just started saying yes to everything, it opened up the entertainment of it and became a lot of fun.”

R.I.O.T comes to The Place on May 27. Visit

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