Little Revolution

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Almeida Theatre, London, until 4 October
Little Revolution depicts the riots of summer 2011 through the diverse voices of Hackney residents. The playwright, Alecky Blythe, who appears as herself, constructed the script from the recordings of real people that she made at the time. The actors reproduce the voices, accents and exclamations word for word, weaving these snippets of conversation into a vivid narrative.

The action covers the riots and their aftermath around Clarence Road in Hackney, where the local convenience store is ransacked. Local shopkeeper Siva is left with no stock and has no contents insurance. As the store is used both by the better off residents of Clapton Square and by the council tenants of the Pembury Estate, it becomes a focal point of post-riot “community cohesion”.

Hipster couple Tony and Sarah join forces with Hackney Councillor Ian Rathbone and a local priest to start a “Friends of Siva” campaign to raise money for Siva and his family. Their success encourages them to organise a street party on Clarence Road to bring together the residents of Clapton Square and the Pembury Estate.

This tale of two cities has comic moments. The pious vicar secures Marks & Spencer’s sponsorship for the tea party, but some Pembury estate residents only come to take away the free muffins. The well-meaning Tony is convinced that his t-shirts depicting Indian deities help him bond with Siva.

The other side of the story is articulated by Sadie from the Pembury Tenants Association, who is presented as a lone campaigner struggling to mobilise support for the campaign Stop Criminalising Hackney Youth, and by the Community Chorus, volunteer amateurs from Hackney and Islington who play young people watching or participating in the riots. There were nuggets of real humour, especially in the young women playing the streetwise Pembury teens. Through these voices we picked up snippets about the shooting of Mark Duggan, police raids on the Pembury Estate, the closure of youth clubs and the daily realities of life being young, poor and black in London.

But the portrayal of the Pembury residents is superficial and quite unsympathetic. Jane, the mother of a mixed race young man suffering from police harassment, was depicted as an insufferably self-righteous whinger – because she was white, her complaints about police racism are shown almost as an affectation.

The contrast between the two worlds was best expressed by wise community barber Colin, who described the riots as a “little revolution”. He cast a jaundiced eye on the community organisation of the Clapton Square set, saying that “people need more than tea and cakes; they need solutions”. This play was an attempt to get beneath the headlines which condemned the rioters as feral selfish youth looting for shallow materialistic gain but I would have liked to have heard more from the really interesting people.