Theatre Review: ‘Riot Act’ Arcola Theatre (London) ★★★★★

Alexis Gregory’s brilliant piece of verbatim theatre, Riot Act, has stopped by East London’s Arcola Theatre as part of a national tour. Looking at the events of Stonewall, the politics of drag and the rise of British LGBT activism in the 80s, this swift show packs a punch in its 60 minutes.

Photo by Dawson James

Made from three interviews (all performed as monologues by Gregory), Riot Act begins in Los Angeles with Michael-Anthony Nozzi who was at Stonewall on the right the riot began (underage and fresh out of the closet). The second piece is with Lavinia Co-op, a 1970s London radical-drag artist, and finally Gregory channels Paul Burston, a prominent UK AIDS activist involved with Outrage and ACT UP.

With simple direction from Rikkie Beadle-Blair, the show focuses tightly on these three first-hand stories, each an idiosyncratic point-of-view on the way the LGBT movement changed thanks to events at the Stonewall Inn in June 1969. Simple costume changes and lighting cues subtly accent each moment, but never pull you away from the power of the words.

Pulling apart the facts from the legends that surround Stonewall seems to be a full-time job (yes, the death of Judy Garland is referenced here), but by giving us the direct words of each subject Gregory manages to make the narratives less about the hard facts and more about the experiences and emotions of each moment. The rage is palpable, as is the humour.

And it’s a moving experience.

Each monologue throws up gems, from the idea that in the UK “safe sex meant don’t sleep with Americans”, to Nozzi’s break down of the gay bars at the time of the riot.

Gregory delivers each ‘character’ fresh, these are not imitations of the real people, and each is an elevated, theatrical version; it is a little disconcerting at first, but once it settles it helps to define each speech.

Alexis Gregory shows that the power of stories doesn’t come from the flash and glamour of a big stage, but from the intimate details of people and events. In crafting Riot Act, he has created a wonderful tribute to three strong people and their unique stories that is well worth seeing.

The details: Riot Act is currently playing Sundays at the Arcola Theatre, London. On June 23rd, there will be a post show talk with Alexis Greogory hosted by Cliff Joannou (Editor of Attitude Magazine). The show will then continue its tour of the UK. For tickets and details head here.

By Chad Armstrong

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