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Published on Tuesday, 16 August 2011

5 stars

Zoo Roxy (venue website)
5-15, 17-29 Aug, 1:15pm-2:15pm
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

 Recommended for age 14+ only.

It’s proved to be unexpectedly topical; but this funny, stylish, poignant show was always destined to succeed.  Founded on one of the oddest news stories of the last decade – the breakdown of social order at an IKEA store in London – Riot is visually striking, morally thoughtful, and finely crafted too.

The nine-member cast from Bristol Old Vic are talented physical performers, evoking a fight through somersaults, and staging a pell-mell charge without ever moving from the spot.  But they’re supported, cleverly, by inanimate stars: the items of furniture themselves.  Cheap plastic chairs – which, folded up, double as walls and doors – are lit by a range of uplighters, all purchased from IKEA.  As the actors brandish the Swedish goods in perfectly-choreographed moves, many of the images are amusing; some are oddly beautiful, and a couple are profoundly disturbing.
There are a huge number of imaginative ideas to enjoy, and there’s an admirable balance to the script – which achieves the difficult trick of condemning the rioters, while simultaneously understanding them.  It makes no excuses for the basest of human behaviour, but conveys a sense of the desire and desperation which turned bargain-hunting shoppers into a brawling mob.  I was touched, in particular, by the mother who couldn’t get her daughter a single longed-for lampshade, and by the Polish worker, with her eloquent tale of how saving your pennies can finally build a home.
There are a few niggles.  The script takes a long time to get round to finishing; the big satisfying finale comes about five minutes before the curtain really falls, with the remaining time occupied tying up loose ends.  And they let IKEA off a little lightly, I think.  Aside from a few remarks put in the mouth of the fictional store manager, there’s little comment on the company’s responsibility for what happened, or its response when it did.
But I’ve saved the tastiest Swedish morsels till last… the personal tales of the staff suddenly catapulted into the middle of that unimaginable night.  In a series of love stories rooted in the most mundane of settings, there’s heartbreak, drama, and some very funny lines.  The ultimate resolution showcases all that’s good about this play – music, humour, lights and beauty.  It triggered a spontaneous ovation, and quite right too.  There’s much to applaud in this magnificently executed morality tale.

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