Riot Night in a Balham Pub

Posted by Ruth

Where: The Regent, Balham SW12
When: 13/11/2012
Price: £5

After experiencing a summer displaying London at its best – full of pride, history, and achievement – it’s hard to believe that just over a year ago the city was gripped by the violence of the riots. Looting and mindless destruction were what filled our screens, not the celebrations and victories of the Jubilee and Olympics seen in recent months.

Living on opposite sides of London at the time, we were both shocked at how quickly the violence escalated in our beloved city, and how close we both were to some of the worst affected areas. So after hearing about ‘Riot Night’ – a play exploring the true events of the London Riots in pubs in South London – we quickly booked tickets and were intrigued about the play.

Directed by Hugh Janes, and written by Robert Young (both critically acclaimed), the night was billed as ‘immersive theatre’ where the audience is part of the action and the performance happens all around you.

The play was held in a section of The Regent (a homely, if slightly try-hard Balham pub), and on entering it felt promising. Little distinction between cast and audience, and a sense of anticipation in the air. However, unfortunately what followed was utterly at odds with the immersive concept.

As the performance started, it was immediately clear that the cast were desperately trying to remember their placement and lines. The dialogue was also hugely contrived – an ill-advised attempt to create a jovial pub atmosphere that delivered no genuine characterisation whatsoever.

Trying to keep an open mind, we assumed things would improve as the plot developed – but unfortunately not, the characters remained one dimensional, and the writing was laughably poor at stages. Exchanging glances with the couple opposite it was clear that they were equally unimpressed.

This was incredibly frustrating; it could have been really affecting, and genuinely frightening – but the amateur nature of the acting and writing negated all emotional impact. We felt like we were watching a gimmicky A-Level performance, with no resemblance to the real events it was claiming to portray. Given the experience and training of all involved this was absolutely not what we expected.

Trying something new and different has to be applauded, and the cast and crew were clearly making a valiant attempt to successfully dramatise the London Riots. However, the execution was so poor that we were hugely disappointed.



Where: Duke of York’s Theatre, WC2
When: 9th November 2012 (until 5th January 2013)
Price: £25-£49.50

Imagine a world where the alternative outcome of every choice you’ve ever made is played out across an infinite number of universes. Where there’s a version of you out there selling more records than the Beatles, and another where you’re the Queen of England, or, more mundanely, a world where you got out of bed 10 minutes later.

That’s the premise of Constellations – a Nick Payne play, directed by Michael Longhurst, which originally opened in January to rave reviews. The play uses the concept of the multiverse – an idea borrowed from quantum physics – where every subatomic event splinters the universe, with each possibility playing out simultaneously across an infinite number of parallel universes. The same idea is used to take the audience on a poignant and witty journey through one couple’s love story. The two actors (Rafe Spall and Sally Hawkins) keep the audience enthralled as they play out the consequences of each decision made, and show the enormity of tiny choices on the course we take through life.

We attended on opening night, which is always a risk – the cast are often fresh and keen to perform, however may not be as polished as later in the season. Happily, this was not the case, and the cast delivered exceptional performances. Clever lighting and staging brought the multiverse concept to life and avoided any risk of the premise appearing gimmicky. In fact, our only criticism is a slight touch of repetition in the dialogue, though this is an unavoidable consequence of the plot.

If you’re still able to get a ticket, do so quickly. It is original, clever, funny and thought provoking. The cast and crew deserve all the praise currently being lavished on them. It is impossible to see the play and not reflect on our place in the universe and the impact of each choice we, and those around us, make.