Riot

Fri 5th – Mon 29th August 2011

reviews

Kate Abnett

at 11:22 on 22nd Aug 2011

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‘The Wardrobe Ensemble' are a theatre company from the Bristol Old Vic, who perform usually in non-theatre spaces. Riot tells the true story of the chaos that ensued in 2005, when a Swedish furniture giant opened a huge new store at midnight, next to the second most deprived constituency in London.

The company’s name is never mentioned, but references to Swedish meatballs and specific products (‘those swirly mirrors’) make the audience realise they not only know this brand, but their lives are scarily (flat-)packed full of their stuff.

The dialogue is fast and witty, and weaves romance and humour whilst dealing with questions about consumerism in an entertaining way. Particularly effective is a scene that documents the generational gap in attitudes towards the things we need – an old man (a brilliant vocal performance by Emily Greenslade) and a polish worker shut themselves inside a cupboard and recount the significance of furniture in their lives in a rare moment of calm that is thick with meaning in the chaotic energy of the rest of the show. The play is devised by the company of nine performers, and as a result is an eclectic mix of paces and styles, with a stylish use of language (riots called shop workers ‘the Yellowshirts’ and the workers referred to the crowd as simply ‘them’ in a clever conveyance of riot politics) that most playwrights would struggle to devise singlehandedly.

The charging force of this production comes from its physical theatre. The chorography throughout is outstanding, and the riot scenes in particular explode with vigorous movement. The set is one of the factors that makes this performance unlike anything else I have seen. Comprised completely from IKEA furniture and lamps, chairs become crowd barriers and the performers operate the lights manually throughout, making the blackouts in scene changes really exciting, as the audience wait to see where these makeshift spotlights will pop up next.

The soundtrack ranges from tongue in cheek covers of James Blunt, to Rent-like big numbers, to instrumental interludes that function alongside the action like a film score. Like the lighting, the soundtrack is created on stage by the cast – trombones, clarinets and saxophones appeared from nowhere and powerful vocals, both collectively and during solos created a vibrant live experience.

From its witty programme (a parody of IKEA’s instruction manuals) to its wonderfully human characters, this is a play/project/musical/physical theatre piece that whisks its audience away on an exciting ride. Like the disaster is portrays, when the riot begins, you cannot look away.

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Dominic Sowa

at 11:23 on 22nd Aug 2011

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The premise of Riot, performed by The Wardrobe Ensemble, is inadvertently current. Although based upon the riot that ensued the opening of the Edmonton branch of IKEA in 2005 and written before the most recent non-IKEA related unrest to hit the country, it is too easy to set it aside as a mere fad following, abrasively relevant example of in your face moralising drama. This could not be further from the truth. Riot is a tour de force that could not be funnier, smarter, more engaging and profounder if it tried.

Although devised by the 9 talented members of the ensemble, for practical and intelligent reasons the show itself was directed by member, Tom Brennan. This was a masterful idea that is self evident in the writing and structure of the play itself. It has the energy and eclectic nature of a devised piece with the single minded approach and intelligent ordering of a directed piece. Even though it is a show that does not fit into a defined category, consisting of elements of song, music, physical theatre, narration and straight acting, the vision of the play is never lost in this multitude but is in fact consistent throughout.

This vision, or one could say message, is a deep one. Shown through the eyes of the amassed and raging crowds and terrified staff, this play is an amusing yet powerful critique of the worst elements of human nature. In what feels like a light hearted parody of zombie classics, the play shows the capacity for man’s total absorption in self possessing greed that temporarily masks the human qualities in all of us turning us into beasts blind to compassion. The greed that is inherent in our society, and seen turning into savagery in the “blue and yellow promised land” is the crux of this play. However for all its depth it is a light hearted affair, for even the moralising message, as represented by the beautifully poised speech given by Emily Greenslade playing the Old Man, is interlaced with witty and intelligent humour.

The play is fast, but not cinematic. Slick, but not shallow. Never before have I seen a set made solely of IKEA items used in such an imaginative and intelligent manner. Never before have I seen a play that is able to interlace such an acute critique of mankind with thrilling and fantastic performances before. I don’t think I have been so entertained by a play for a long time. Go see it now.

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