Thursday, 10 October 2019

Riot - Theatre Review

What: Riot
When: 8 - 12 October 2019
Where: The MC Showroom
Written and directed by: Thomas Ian Doyle
Performed by: Benjamin Brooker, Marisa Matear, Emma Louise Pursey, Gabrielle Reiher, and Mazz Ryan
Sound by: Benjamin Brooker
Emma Louise Pursey and Mazz Ryan
The Owl and Cat has been closed for a while now, but the creative relationship between Thomas Ian Doyle and Gabrielle Reiher continues in their latest project Riot. After a premier season at their old venue in 2017 and a workshop process in Alaska, Riot is back on the Melbourne stage at The MC Showroom albeit for a very short season.

I didn't see the original production so I don't know how the play has evolved, but generally speaking it follows the love catastrophes of a 20 something Millennial and has a parrallel commentary of free for all capitalism. Reiher directed the premier, but this time she is acting in it and Doyle has directed the play himself.

There has been some gender/sex movement in this production due to circumstances as well as Reiher's explorations of playing male characters. The final result is that the lead character, Gin (Matear), is female in this iteration and Kane (Brooker) is male. Whilst the play does hold up with these changes, I suspect the commentary on relationships and community would be more powerful and complex in the original gender casting. Reiher plays Gavin as a man and was completely convincing to my plus one.

The relationships are complex, but I will take a shot at explaining them. Gin has an ex, Janette (Pursey), who is her dope supplier but who doesn't want anything to do with her anymore. Gin works for Kane. Gin meets Gavin, they sleep together and he ends up moving in - she is doing him a favour. It is no surprise to learn later in the play that Gavin doesn't pay for anything...ever. Gin meets Lola (Ryan) and they start getting jiggy with it too.

This seems pretty standard, but there are twists and turns in all of the relationships which will come as much of a surprise as they are illuminating. I'm not one hundred percent clear on the capitalism analogy - how it works in this story - but it is a good mechanism for building urgency as we can relate to current events which have escalated. There is a riot coming!

In some respects this is a brave production and I think some of the actors (Ryan for instance) have been brave and bold in embracing the roles. Doyle and Reiher have always had nudity and simulated sex as part of their artistic statement and Riot brings plenty in an array of forms. Sadly though, I admit I didn't find any of it sexy and I wasn't convinced it moved the story forward.

Having said that, Riot is directed as naturalism so it makes sense to be so explicit in such an ordinary way. Sex is far more often ordinary rather than extraordinary after all...

Underneath all the gimmicks and complexities of Riot is a really strong and positive message. Gin is struggling with the ordinariness of her life and situation. She gets herself into situations and causes harm to the people around her because she cannot face her agency in managing herself.

It is the final scene with Janette which really opens the door of understanding for the audience. This is usually the case with Doyle's plays which is what I love about his writing. In a world which has lived in panic for decades, Doyle tells us how okay it is. All you have to do is be honest and use the management tools now available.

There were a few cast changes in the two weeks prior to opening so performances were a bit sketchy. Pursey dominated the stage, though, and Reiher's performance was detailed (and convincing for those who don't know her). I wasn't entirely convinced most of the cast understood the overarching narrative of the play though. Whilst each scene was detailed, I didn't feel what happened pointed to the next thing about to happen - and yes, it is a trajectory play.

I also got a bit confused about a couple of highly stylised scene changes. They were a disappointment because for the most part the simple staging of four chairs was arranged and rearranged with efficiency and purpose. I was also not convinced by the 'shop window' upstage which revealed the major prop for the next scene in the previous one. It's hard to make that idea work in a minimalist production.

I would really love to see Riot with the original gender/sex casting and a tighter link between the meta-statements and the story of the characters. I do hope the team get past the recent troubles and try again at some point - perhaps with some design support to help draw ideas together.

2 Stars

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