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Review: Neil LaBute's Autobahn at the King's Head Theatre

Review: Little Revolution, Almeida Theatre (edited)

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Image by Bruno Drummond

[Had a bit of a tidy up and added some additional thoughts] Verbatim plays have come into vogue in recent years but this is actually the first I've seen (cue: incredulous comments about things I've missed) so I'm coming to this experience 'fresh'.

During the 2011 riots - sparked by the shooting of Mark Duggan - writer Alecky Blythe took her dictaphone to Hackney.  She talked to people affected by the riots and followed the community campaign that sprang up to support local convenience store owner Siva Kandiah whose shop was looted.

Alecky appears in the play as herself. The actors all wear ear pieces and are fed the lines of the different characters they play which they then recreate.

The Almeida has been transformed for this production with the stage and seating moved into the round*. There is a temporary feel to everything with chip board and industrial looking railings to protect those sitting in raised seating as if the theatre has been patched up post the riots.

In the central performance space it is community centre style chairs and random raised platforms with the actors often staying on stage or in seats within the audience. At the beginning we are told by Alecky that the actors are hearing the voices of those they are playing and the whole thing is set up as a meeting of people who want to be...in her play. It is device that is never returned to.

The narrative is told through a selection of encounters Alecky had and we see a mixture of responses to the events. There are the well-meaning middle-class residents who set up a fund for Siva and organise an afternoon tea party, sponsored by M&S, in order to bring the community together.

Then there are the residents of the local Pembury Estate who see the social issues that caused the riots as something different, not about eating cupcakes but addressing things like stop and search and various other policing techniques designed supposedly to suppress criminal activity among the local youth.

Naturally there is clash and what is depressing about this tale is that by the end, although lots of views have been aired there is a big question mark over what has actually been achieved in the longer term. Siva has a new shop but when Alecky returns two years later to record responses to the Mark Duggan inquest verdict, she doesn't get quite what she is after.

It is not always as pacey as it could be but this was first preview so that might change. Where it works well is with some of the larger than life characters but this in itself is problematic, they often feel stereotypical. It begs the question of what the verbatim aspect of the production actually adds. Given the spotlight of a dictaphone can these ever be genuine reactions and what are the actors adding in the interpretation? I'm sure not all the material Alecky gathered has been use so what was behind the selection process and to what purpose?

The latter question is partly born out of the humour in the play because I'm not sure whether it is supposed to be funny. Some of the characters feel like they've jumped straight from a Catherine Tate or Little Britain sketch and raised a few laughs as a result. Why are we laughing, is it because we judge them to be ridiculous?

Walking away from the theatre there was a lot to think about so Little Revolution gets marks for that but I also couldn't help questioning what it was all for.

* A note on seating: @vampiresoup was sat in a traditional circle seat and found her view restricted. In pushing the performance space to the centre of the auditorium sight-lines to the action have a much sharper angle and the balcony of the circle can get in the way.  

RS/BW 6DS

Mr W's Hamlet mummy - Imogen Stubbs is in this.

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