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Little Revolution: Riot play shines a light on the class divide in British society

Voices from people in Hackney make Little Revolution, about the 2011 riots, an antidote to those who dismissed them as ‘criminality’, argues Brian Richardson

Issue No. 2420

Police with raised batons charge rioters in Hackney in August 2011

Police with raised batons charge rioters in Hackney in August 2011 (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Little Revolution’s starting point is the dramatic events of August 2011, when London erupted following the fatal police shooting of Mark Duggan in Tottenham.

Alecky Blythe, the writer and director, lives in Hackney. When the unrest broke out, Blythe took to the streets with a dictaphone to record conversations with people she encountered when the riots spread to her locality.  

The result is a “verbatim play”, based not only on the original words, but also the “accent, intonation, delivery and speech pattern” of those participants.

I was a rookie barrister, who cut his teeth that summer representing people charged in connection with the unrest. Moreover, my clients included several participants in that particular uprising.  I was eager to see how those events were portrayed on stage.

However the primary focus of Little Revolution is not the actual riots, but rather the process of reconciliation that followed. 

A convenience store on Clarence Road was ransacked during the riots. Local residents rally round to help the shopkeeper, Siva, rebuild his business.

Apart

The residents of Clapton Square and the Pembury Estate live in close proximity, but they are worlds apart in most other respects. The proudly middle class couple from the square wear “ethnic” clothing bought on their Indian holiday.

Meanwhile many of the local young people have never set foot outside the borough. Many of the mothers from the estate sympathise with Siva, but their primary concern is the crackdown that occurred once the police had regained control. 

The campaign to help Siva is supported by the local councillor and clergyman with enthusiastic media coverage. The fund and a street party, complete with food donated by M&S, are hailed as a great success. 

Meanwhile the mothers struggle to gain support for the Stop Criminalising Hackney Youth campaign with limited funds from the trades council. Little Revolution is an interesting play which manages to shine a light on some of the class divisions in society.

In this way it is a good antidote to the people—David Cameron among them—who dismissed the riots as “criminality pure and simple” and the participants as “feral rats”. 

Little Revolution, Written and directed by Alecky Blythe. Almeida Theatre Islington, London N1 1TA. Until Sat 4 October. Tickets from £9 almeida.co.uk

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Tue 9 Sep 2014, 16:47 BST
Issue No. 2420
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