A harrowing, intense and relentless play written by Thomas Ian Doyle and directed by Gabrielle Savrone, Riot is the story of one man’s alienation from society and his gradual descent into chaos. With a small cast of five actors and an even smaller set, Riot is able to achieve a great deal with what is ultimately very little.
To say too much about the actual plot of Riot would be a crime, as part of the charm of viewing it is not knowing where things are heading although you can be almost certain from the first scene they’ll be heading south. Put simply, the less you know the better. None the less, the actual plotting of Riot is relatively tight. Things always feel as if they’re progressing and Riot mostly avoids the issue of spiralling around in its own meditations and thoughts. Only on the odd occasion was there the feeling of things going around in a loop, with the beats of plot becoming just a tad on the predictable side. These are ultimately quite nick-picky things though and are in no ways major blemishes. Riot is able to simultaneously fuse the intimate and the universal in one by combining the small-scale relationship drama with grander themes about life itself and this is to be truly applauded. Additionally, Riot is able to effectively utilise relationship drama without ever making it too mushy or deep but instead articulates it effectively. Character actions aren’t just shrouded in mystery and enigma but in time the motivations become clear and grounded.
As for the characters themselves, they are deeply complex with nuance. They are for the most part believable and while at least two characters give the initial impression of being simple stereotypes, these in due time are eventually shattered. Furthermore, a great testimony to the writing, is the fact that each of the characters gain your empathy at different points in the story and it is refreshing to see that there is no real antagonist in the traditional sense – thus, the play’s realism. The characters however wouldn’t be able to come to life without the stellar acting that is probably Riot’s most notable and greatest asset. The performance of Johnathan Peck as Jim for instance, is nothing short of excellent. On the odd occasion, some cast members perhaps ‘over-act’ a little, but on the whole they present engaging and enthralling performances.
Savrone’s direction comes to the forefront in which she is able to cleverly use the same set for variously different locations and still make each of these feel distinct. Never do we think to ourselves, ‘Why are they having a job interview in his living room?’ In this way, Savrone’s direction utilises the space fantastically. One of Riot’s key faults however is sometimes its capacity to go a little over-board on its edginess. While it’s a certainly a great thing that Riot is uncompromising in its portrayal of characters and relevant, often right on point political commentary, the inclusion of on-stage sex scenes sometimes just makes it feel like its trying a little too hard to shock you. These actually distract from the story, creating an unnecessary barrier for the audience to get through in order to become involved. Such a great sense of edginess is already established through the sporadic lighting, perfectly picked soundtrack and claustrophobic little set.
While not without its drawbacks, Riot is a show worth seeing for those prepared to get passed the in-your-face sex and drugs to see the fantastic performance of Johnathan Peck and its emotionally engaging script.