Edinburgh Fringe 2012
In 1809 the Covent Garden theatre was rebuilt after a fire. The actor/manager, John Kemble raised the ticket prices to help cover the costs of the re-build.… ticket prices which had previously been unchanged for 100 years or more. For 66 nights the audience protested until the ticket price increase was reversed . In this wonderful piece by Adrian Bunting, we the audience are encouraged to voice our opinion and exercise our power as the people.
The phrase site-specific used to be bandied about when referring to theatre that was performed in spaces other than theatres. The phrase then changed to ‘immersive theatre’ which indicated that the audience were an integral part of the show. In many cases that I’ve seen you are still essentially an audience with a big old 4th wall between you and the action even if you are following the action around (literally).
The reason for this pre-amble is that Kemble’s Riot though we are seated in a traditional theatre environment is probably the most immersive theatre I have seen in a while. The reaction of the audience may not affect the narrative but absolutely is vital to the rhythm of the play and to the enjoyment of the piece as a whole.
The action moves from dialogue between John Kemble and his sister the actress Sarah Siddons to the ‘people’ who are placed on different sides of the political debate (for or against the protests) dependent on where you happened to sit when you came in.
Don’t worry if your views dovetail better with the audience on the other side of the auditorium – moving over would fit in perfectly to this piece – if there are any spare seats in the theatre.
The four performers are uniformly good on a bare stage and any discomfort about the nature of audience participation is avoided. There is real skill here in taking the audience with you, engaging them and encouraging them to state their own views without ever losing the power of the narrative
It is a simple but wonderfully conceived concept in a piece that is essentially about the power of the people and their right to protest. Along the way we also look at the culture of celebrity and the right of everyone to be able to access cultural experiences.
Any one of these major themes could be a play in itself and it is credit to the playwright Adrian Bunting (who also makes a small cameo in the play) that they are all integrated in a thoroughly engrossing piece of theatre.