Review: Riot Act (Touring)

Friday 7th February 2020 at Harrogate Theatre (Studio).


Alexis Gregory’s arresting solo show takes the testimonies of three important figures in the LGBTQ+ community and places their words and experiences at the centre of an impressive hour long verbatim piece.

Though the stage is an empty space ripe for conjuring the past through the skilled art of simple lyrical narrative, and though the figures are given merely first name status, their stories are beautifully fleshed out and offer a depth of understanding across generations of LGBTQ+ history. None of them recognised the momentous nature of their experiences at the time, but in their later years they have come to realise the significance of their participation and testimonies.

First we meet a witness to the Stonewall scene and infamous riots. At seventeen years old he witnessed one of the most pivotal moments in recent history – a defining happening which planted determined seeds of important progress. The account shifts constantly between humour, pathos and harrowing details of abuse of power and grotesque manipulations. It’s a wild ride through a scary time and we’re made to feel the thrill and the fear of that time as we hear of it in such vivid detail, made all the more striking through some excellent lighting and direction from Rikki Bradle-Blair.

Our second speaker is a drag artist who gives us a whistle stop tour of the depth of meaning behind the drag scene – lifting a curtain often overlooked on the contemporary scene of RuPaul’s glitzy girls. Here we’re given familiar insights when it comes to drag and notions of identity but there’s so much more here than would otherwise get airtime outside of a show like this. It’s not just a look backwards but a bright spotlight on how the present day scene came to be the infinitely more mainstream hit that it is.

Then there’s our final speaker who both moves and inspires us with his gritty determination to cause change even while suffering a period of unimaginable extended loss and mourning. Having loved and lost in a constant cycle during the rise and height of the HIV/ Aids epidemic, his devastation and rage are brilliantly captured in perhaps the finest moments of performance in the show. This final speaker forces reflection in all of us in a way which can’t possibly fail to move any beating heart in the audience – it’s a probing, poignant finale to an evening mapping out the origins and key moments propelling vital activism which now informs all areas of LGBTQ+ culture and community.

In Alexis Gregory’s writing and performance, we find three opportunities to meet extraordinary ordinary individuals with little more than a quick shirt change and a seamless transition into each persona. It’s a very impressive performance and the narratives feel incredibly sincere, never failing to give the impression that Gregory has invested great time, attention and heart into bringing these important testimonies and charismatic men to our attention.

As a trio of voices which would otherwise be designated a backseat in written accounts of their respective generations of activism, struggle and inspirational acts, they provide a distinctly unique opportunity to touch base with vitally important LGBTQ+ history which is pushed ever more to the margins as time passes. It’s a commendable, affectionate work from Gregory and the fact that he manages to communicate the full spectrum of experience and consequence in an hour of theatre is an accomplishment worthy of celebration.

Riot Act is presented by Alexis Gregory and Emerson and Ward Productions. This was its only performance at Harrogate Theatre but the show tours until 27th February 2020 and you can find information and tickets here.

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