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Riot Act

Alexis Gregory

Emmerson and Ward & Alexis Gregory

Lowry Digital

August 22-27, 2022; 1hr 15min


Alexis Gregory in Riot Act. All pics: Holly Revell
Alexis Gregory in Riot Act. All pics: Holly Revell

When theatres reopened after lockdown, questions were rightly asked about the future of streaming. Could the saviour of performing arts during the pandemic really survive when audiences could experience productions in person?

The answer was that streamed shows needed to offer something special, something more. Alexis Gregory’s Riot Act does just that.

The one-man verbatim show was first performed in 2018 and soon moved from off-West End and fringe venues to town and then around the country. This "digital re-imagining" was filmed at the Hackney Empire for LGBT History Month this year and is now part of a hybrid tour.

Audiences in different parts of the UK can choose between live performances, scheduled streamed shows and workshops about the themes. Digital viewers can rest assured they’re not missing out.

Under the superb direction of Rikki Beadle-Blair, the streamed version of Riot Act takes us backstage with Gregory, out into the street to react with members of the public, and physically closer to the characters than any audience member could ever get.

The camera work and lighting for the screen is superb and brilliantly adds to the emotion and power of the piece.

Taking the show online and pre-recording it also affords Gregory the chance to act with himself as characters from the show sit in the audience, listening and responding to the other monologues. Given this is a show about the power of community and togetherness, the experience feels incredibly special.

At the heart of Riot Act though are the real words of Stonewall survivor Michael-Anthony, 70s activist drag queen Lavinia and AIDS campaigner Paul. The themes they discussed with Gregory during the creation of this show may be well-trodden ground in queer theatre, but even the most committed historian of the struggle for gay freedom will discover new details here.

A documentary could never have told these three beautiful stories with the same power and intimacy as this show. Riot Act is a piece of theatre that feels necessarily verbatim, which is down to Gregory’s expressively raw performance. He transforms effortlessly between the characters and truly embodies them for the viewer.

That isn't to say Riot Act is perfect. The three stories feel symbiotic, but not quite as one. Despite the brilliant efforts of Gregory and Beadle-Blair, the audience remains ever-so-slightly removed.

Nonetheless, this is a relevant slice of queer history, brilliantly performed and (near) perfectly digital.