Alexis Gregory’s one man show is a passionate and engrossing piece of theatre, created and assembled from verbatim accounts from gay men who have encounted key points in queer history.
Directed by Rikki Beadle-Blair and lit by Mike Robertson, Riot Act presents itself as a set of three monologues: a New York 60s bar scene through the eyes of a man looking back to teenage years; an East End drag queen finding their place in the world; a young AIDS activist working for ActUp.
Made in partnership with, commissioned by, and filmed at Hackney Empire, Gregory often performs direct to camera, giving this an immediacy and urgency. Each characterisation is achieved by small changes; a different shirt, a subtle change of make-up, an accent inflection and set of mannerisms.
Where Beadle-Blair chooses to pull away or film in a slightly different style we still feel immersed in these stories. The moment where the old man who feels honoured someone cares about his life is proud to share his real name. The sense that although things are better now there is still a long way to go, and that Pride and respect are still essential.
What binds these three monologues together is a sense of injustrice, loss, grief, misunderstanding, and above all, community. Whether it is the leather queens coming together with the camp ones to celebrate Judy Garland, or the women who stood shoulder to shoulder with the dying young men of the 1980s, Riot Act celebrates the presence and place of the gay man.
In creating this piece and giving these three men a voice, Gregory has teased out every little detail in their stories, and delivers them in a way which takes you back to the days of clubs, cottages, and marches. Everything is set out in detail, and even in the darkest moments of funeral after funeral, there is still humour to be found.
Riot Act treats its characters and subjects with respect and dignity, but there is also a sizzling anger there, an anger that a whole generation was taken away, a frustration that younger gays do not often recognise the political and personal sacrifices made by those who went before them.
An excellent piece of digital theatre – essential, vibrant, and compassionate. You can watch Riot Act on stream.theatre on demand until 28 February: buy your ticket here.
Image credit: Holly Revell