Riot Act, King’s Head London, 3***: William Russell



By Alexis Gregory.


The King’s Head Theatre, 115 Upper Street, Islington, London N1 1QN to 5 August 2018 part of the Queer Season which runs throughout August.

Check performance times with the theatre.

Runs 1 hr No interval

TICKETS: 0207 226 8561.

Review: William Russell 2 August.


Three gay guys talk about life and death and all the rest

Alexis Gregory is a skilled performer and delivers this “verbatim theatre piece” – part of the Queer Season currently running at the King’s Head theatre – with skill and passion. It is based on interviews he conducted with three men, Michael Anthony Nozzi, an American who as a teenager was there at the famous Stonewall riots in New York when the gay community finally stood up against police brutality and repression, Lavinia Co-op, an East End drag queen, and Paul Burston, a middle aged gay man who is also an AIDS activist.

It results in a picture of life as experienced by many, but by no means all, over the last fifty odd years. The performance being part of a season means he is confined by the seating set up of the theatre and has to perform the three monologues from a small stage at one end of the space. It would have been better if director Rikki Beadle Blair had taken him off the stage and made him address the sections of his audience which surround him on three sides from the substantial floor space available. He does do at one point when as Burston he hands out some activist pamphlets, but for the rest he is up there delivering his three monologues from the same spot and at times it can feel like one is being browbeaten.

The Stonewall story told by Michael is fascinating and pretty well forgotten. The picture painted of this grotty establishment in New York’s legendary Christopher Street is chilling as is the account of what followed. The radical gay drag stuff involving Lavinia is interesting, although it does reinforce the gay men want to wear dresses stereotype. It is left to the married activist Paul to deliver the messages to be learned. One is in part that the happy days when people got the clap and went to the clinic for some anti-biotics then carried on as usual are not here again. Today while HIV can be treated, and no longer seen as a gay plague, it remains a dangerous, prevalent sexually transmitted disease. The other message is that the freedoms the young and old, but especially the young now enjoy today were hard won and can always be lost. Vigilance matters.

Gregory sees it as six decades of transatlantic queer history, which is fair, but using the particular to generalise has its problems. Three stories are not enough. However, there is no getting away from the fact that he can hold an audience, and creates his characters with economy – a change of shirt, a pair of stilettos instead of trainers – very well indeed.

Michael, Lavinia & Paul: Alexis Gregory.

Director: Rikki Beadle Blair.

Production Photographer: Dawson James.


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