Review: Riot Act
Image: King's Head Theatre
'Riot Act' is a powerful brand new verbatim theatre piece created especially for the Queer Season.
'You know what's strange, I felt safer on the night of the riots, on the sidewalk in front of Stonewall, than I did in my own home town'.
'I'm a drag queen. I want to live. I want to survive.
As an older person, I'm sixty five now, I couldn't give a f*cking shit'.
'In London, the idea of 'safe sex' was; don't sleep with Americans.
James was older; a mature student.
He was twenty two years old when he died'.
Playwright and performer Alexis Gregory interviewed one of the only remaining Stonewall survivors, radical-drag icon Lavinia Co-Op and prominent 1990's London ACT UP AIDS activist Paul Burston and in this solo theatre piece, 'channels' sex decades of queer history.
Hard-hitting, provocative, tender, truthful, funny, political and personal, these are stories of queerness, activism, addiction, sex, drag, community, conflict, youth, ageing, fierce queens and a Hollywood diva.
'Riot Act' is the follow up piece to Alexis Gregory's recent critically acclaimed sell-out run of 'Sex / Crime' (The Glory).
His previous work includes 'Slap' (Stratford East / Channel 4 / Concrete in Shoreditch) and 'Safe' (Soho Theatre / London Theatre Workshop / Norwich Theatre Royal).
He presents 'Riot Act' in association with Team Angelica.
Three short, but powerful and absorbing monologues are the basis for this one-person show researched, written and performed by Alexis Gregory.
Riot Act is a verbatim piece, meaning that the show is based on material gathered from real people, rather than being a work of fiction, or simply discovered from reference material - books, news reports and the like.
To create Riot Act, Mr Gregory interviewed three gay men and it's their words and stories that we hear him deliver in these monologues.
Verbatim theatre is a kind of documentary theatre where experiences and events previously locked-away in the memories of ordinary people can find a voice.
And the material often provides important testimony to historical events and circumstances, which is certainly the case here.
You might wonder if video recordings might be an equally suitable, or even better vehicle conserving experiences for posterity.
I suspect, there are circumstances when you'd be right.
But, as Alexis Gregory ably and convincingly demonstrates here, the ambience of live theatre provides an additional, emotional layer to the simple act of delivering a testament of the past in the present.
The people interviewed were Michael-Anthony Nozzi, a witness (and, perhaps, the only survivor) of the bloody Stonewall riots in New York during 1969, drag legend Lavinia Co-op and journalist, author and Act-Up activist Paul Burston.
Mr Gregory takes their words and delivers them in sequence as individual monologues, separated only by short pauses for, fairly minor, costume changes.
There's no set apart from a simple dais from which Mr Gregory delivers the often powerfully poignant words of his interviewees.
There's little action here, largely because the focus of the entire show is on words - what the characters are saying - through Mr Gregory.
But the relatively static nature of the performance is no impediment to either the potency of the overall narrative or the revelations we hear.
The actor does change his vocal delivery for each monologue which is sufficient to engage us with unique personalities throughout the piece.
The accounts from the interviewees range over the past 50 years, starting in 1969 with the bloodbath of the Stonewall riots and covering the period of the 1970s to 1990s during which AIDS made an early and brutal claim on the young lives of huge numbers of gay men - and, of course, many other groups besides.
Courage sits side-by-side with brutality in many of the stories and events we hear of but, as you might expect, there's also a rich vein of humour that permeates even the most affecting moments.
Standing ovations may be more common in theatres these days, often suggesting that the practice is somewhat gratuitous or merely becoming ritualised.
But there was a real sense that the one for Alexis Gregory at the end of his piece was sincerely heartfelt, and that it was offered not merely to the performer, but also to the sometimes disquieting, often courageous testimony of Michael-Anthony Nozzi, Lavinia Co-op and Paul Burston.
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