Nicolas Kent on ‘The Riots’ at the Tricycle Theatre

November 24, 2011 § Leave a comment

(photo credited to Max Warren - flickr)

The London Riots in August this year came as a shock to the nation, and made headlines around the world. 

The government have chosen not to conduct a public inquiry into the incident that went on for four days, saw hundreds, if not thousands of shops smashed, burnt and looted.

In the wake of the government’s lack of inquiry, the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn has mounted its own inquiry into what went on during those four days and have presented their findings in a theatrical format, ‘The Riots.’

Yesterday evening I was fortunate enough, along with the rest of my ‘Issues’ class from Westminster University, to go and see ‘The Riots.’

Before the show we were treated to a talk by the director of the production, Nicolas (Nick) Kent.

The Tricycle: Political theatre 

Nick talked to us about the Tricycle theatre itself, as well as touching on ‘The Riots’ production, written by Gillian Slovo.

What stood out for me was Nick’s pointing out that the Tricycle has established itself as a political theatre – creating productions that touch on important issues that it (and its directors) think need to be talked about – using verbatim theatre.

“So, I always try to take issues that I think are important and dramatize them,” says Nick.

“I suppose I use theatre in a way to call attention to issues I’m crusading about and feel strongly about.”

Political topics that have made it to the Tricycle’s stage include: apartheid, the conflict in Northern Ireland, the Scott Arms public inquiry (about the UK’s supplying arms to Suddam Hussein), the Nuremberg war tribunals and Guantanamo Bay, among others.

While these are all issues the Nick himself has felt passionate about, the same can’t be said for his box office.

When he presented the idea of producing a play about the Scott Arms inquiry, for example, he was told, “two men and a dog are going to come.” The public proved them wrong.

“We never got two men and a dog, we in fact got full houses for four weeks and then we played it at the Houses of Parliament and it was a huge success. And I suddenly understood there was a thirst for these sort of plays,” Nick says.

Theatre over the media

Nick pointed out to us budding journalists that the theatre has a huge advantage over the media, no matter what form it takes.

With media- whether it be print or radio or television or online – the consumer has the choice to turn the page, to turn it off, to change channels. It is a platform that people can choose, very easily, to disengage from. It is a platform with which you don’t have to persevere with.

Theatre, however, once it has you in seats, ticket paid for, forces you to engage, to persevere  through a two-hour production (providing you don’t choose to leave during the interval).

“In theatre you have to persevere or go to sleep. You sit there and you’re trapped. You’ve got two hours and you’ve got to think about a problem. It makes you concentrate,” says Nick.

And what comes out of that somewhat forced engagement and concentration is, at least with the Tricycle’s productions, the chance to have seen an issue from someone else’s point of view. It gives you a chance, as the saying goes, to ‘put yourself in someone else’s shoes.’

‘The Riot’ production 

(photo credited to CARLOS62 - flickr)

Nick chose to produce a play about ‘The Riots’ because he believed some form of investigation needed to be conducted into why the riots happened over the summer.

“I’ve chosen to do it because I think it’s an important subject and because I think the government should have held a public inquiry and they haven’t,” he says.

By conducting a series of interviews with all of those involved – from police, to MPs, to by-standers, to community leaders, to some of the rioters themselves – Nick has produced a piece of theatre that tries to get to the heart of that very question.

The result is two hours of listening to verbatim (although Nick says that the script has been edited) theatre about the riots.

Particularly moving is the story of one man whose entire house was burnt down. He repeats, over and over, how he thought it would be ‘alright’ and how the police and fire-brigade would be there to help. They never showed up.

It is just one example of how the emergency services were not prepared for such an event.

But for such a heavy topic there are also moments that caused laughter. Particularly amusing was a pastors’ comment about how he saw a mother, clearly having just engaged in looting, trying on shoes for her daughter outside JD Sports in Tottenham. Another anecdote about how people were going into the McDonald’s on Tottenham high street and cooking themselves burgers!

Each person interviewed was asked to describe the rioters in three words. ‘Angry’, ‘frustrated’ and ‘lost’ were all popular.

And after watching the production, hearing the different sides of the story, I think I would agree.

‘The Riots’ is showing at the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn (on the Jubilee line) until December 10th 2011. For times and ticket prices, look on their website. 

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