Alexis Gregory’s play conveys pain, anger and grief effectively as he take audiences on a journey through the history of the LGBTQ+ rights movement.
Released online to mark LGBT History Month, Alexis Gregory’s powerful take on the history of the LGBTQ+ rights movement tells it as seen through the eyes of three of those who were involved in some way: Michael-Anthony Nozzi, a survivor of the Stonewall riots; Lavinia Co-op, an alternative ‘70s drag artist; and Paul Burston, a 90s AIDS activist. Each person were involved with different parts of the movement – but the themes of homophobia, anger and suffering among the changes in law and beginning of changing in attitudes according to the era are universal.
Created word-for-word from playwright and performer Gregory’s interviews that he conducted, Riot Act is a fierce, passionate and at times occasionally too intense piece of theatre that acts like a reminder of why we should ever forget the horror and pain of a lot of LGBT history. It is strikingly honest from the get go – the intensity of the performance from Alexis Gregory can be slightly intimidating – but it also shows just how passionately he feels about every aspect of the history.
Each monologue has been carefully put together, and begins with 17 year old Michael’s account of the Stone Wall Riots which happened not long after he moved to New York – his story of police brutality and the vivid images that are conjured up during up this monologue are shocking – enhanced further by the grimness in which Gregory recounts it. At times he could slow down in his performance and give the audience a chance to really absorb and take the enormity of what is being told. This is swiftly followed by Lavinia’s story of a drag queen feeling as though being gay is akin to an illness and it is painful to hear the uncertainty and confusion that comes through – but it is beautifully told through Gregory’s performance. Finally, Paul’s story of being a AIDS Activist and recounting the people that he had known who died is a powerful and heartbreaking way to conclude the show – there is pride in what he is hoping to achieve but also a great sense grief as well.
There is no doubting that the stories and the way in which Riot Act has been put together is brilliantly executed but I do feel that in terms of camera shots and the way it has been put together for this digital version feels a little awkward – so I would be interested in watching the production live. The transitions between monologues just feel a little bit rough around the edges and can pull the audience slightly out from the narrative that is being told.
Throughout it all however, Aleixs Gregory is able to pay attention to all kinds of emotional detail that is pleasing to watch – you really believe that you are there with him reliving these parts of history. His anger, pain and grief are all so palpable to watch as each story unfolds. One particular moment that shows this perfectly is the anger that Michael feels with regards to younger gay men who snub him and the older generation of the gay community is a standout moment.
Overall, there is much to be appreciated in the way in which Riot Act has been presented in digital form, but I can’t help but feel that this is piece that deserves and is better experienced live so that you can really feel the emotion of Gregory’s performance.
By Emma Clarendon
Riot Act can be watched on demand via Stream.Theatre until the 28th February.