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How to Start a Riot
Published on Friday, 10 August 2012
4

4 stars

theSpace @ Surgeons Hall (venue website)
Theatre
6-11, 13-18, 20-25 Aug, 7:05pm-7:55pm
Reviewed by Lynne Morris

 Recommended for age 12+ only.
 Free and unticketed. No pre-booking required.

Worklight Theatre is an Exeter-based company (an area unaffected by the riots of 2011), presenting a piece that shows how such violent disorder and its subsequent media dissemination can transcend geographical boundaries and raise universal questions. I myself watched last year’s scenes explode beneath my window – along with one car and numerous bins – in Clapton, Hackney, and I found myself asking the very questions that are heard thundering around The Surgeons Hall. To lift one example from their flyer, “If the actions are mindless, what’s in the mind?”

There is shouting, aggression and a little swearing, as the trio career between emergency news bulletins, political commentary, social theory and the musings of Michael – the show’s cheery everyman. I imagine this is all to be expected, as no-one said anything about a friendly riot, did they? Once you’ve made it through the opening sequence, you’ll be well-prepared; the extremely forthright YouTube clip recording the events that sparked the furore is about as offensive as things get.

Torchlight, impressive choreography and frequent interruptions intensify this work, as the volume and energy seem to build relentlessly. The production cleverly interweaves well-executed physical theatre, text and research on rioting and crowd psychology, evoking feelings of disorientation and near chaos. At times things begin to get a little too much, and you wonder what is going to happen next. I will save you the disappointment; you will neither be kettled nor arrested.

How to Start a Riot will shake you into rethinking any hastily formed opinions you may have harboured since the events of last year, as it takes you on a speedy tour through the rioting history of UK, the legal definition of the term and a handful of alternative viewpoints. While this piece is unlikely to give you the answers you were looking for, it will certainly offer some more options. It also serves as a reminder of how destruction and violence have the potential to be followed by positive responses in the form of creativity and change.

It would be an exaggeration to declare it the silver lining of the 2011 UK riots, but it does offer further weight to the view that shocking events can provide impetus for reflection. This Edinburgh run marks its world premiere – so while there are a few concerns, including its disappointing lo-fi promo artwork and proximity to overly-earnest sermonic territory, I am sure the work will grow into the piece they intended it to be.

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