Playwave Creative


RIOT at Sydney festival

Reviewed by Arran Munro

"I’ve always liked the idea of the theatre. The smell of the grease, the roar of the paint. I’ve often thought if I hadn’t ended up in computers, I would've gone into the theatre.

As Moss from the IT crowd tells us, live performances are certainly an entertaining attraction. So, needless to say, I was very excited on seeing Irish variety show RIOT, albeit in a Spiegeltent. With the promise of live music; exciting camp retro visuals; and a lil' sprinkle of the obscene, it seemed like the perfect live performance for me. Furthermore, it’s highly queer and feminist oriented content is always great to see represented.

This is why it thoroughly astounded me to find that this element of the show - the political and left wing element - to be the very downfall of RIOT. Almost every act of this 90 minute show was in someway tied into a political message. Those featuring drag queen Panti Bliss and spoken word poet, Irish actor and writer, Emmet Kirwan felt like affirmations of the left wing agenda, it felt less like a protest against social norms and more akin to a sermon.

Now, before I go any further, I would like to add that I know some people who especially loved the political message and underlying theme of the show. I want to clarify that the message itself was not the part that bothered me, but the delivery. The show would have much more appropriately fitted the name Sermon!, considering how preachy its message felt. I have every reason to love left wing politics and arguments but the way in which it was so earnestly fed to the audience through a glittery funnel of singing and spoken poetry, just made me want to cry whilst cringing.

I wholly agree with the message of the show. The underlying theme of carving your own path and dissenting against oppressive societal structures that are designed to lead individuals to mediocrity is strong. The very point of the message and of the titular RIOT fell flat due to the fact that the majority of the audience would have overwhelmingly already understood and believed the thesis.

I guess if I was to think about it kindly, you could say that the point of RIOT, was to encourage people to stand up, and well, riot. But the issue is that the crowd they were performing to was primarily a liberal echo chamber. To truly invoke a “violent disturbance of the peace by a crowd” would be to change things from outside in. To basically change opinions and influence change through ideas. But instead bravery was lacking. Rather than playing to a supportive audience, how much more potent it would have been if the performers really did have the opportunity to truly influence the minds of those who don’t already agree with them? Perhaps a season of the show in the 'No' voting areas of Sydney would have had more capacity to really challenge and perhaps sway opinions. If one is serious about the power of theatre, the question for both artists and presenters should be whether the content can truly influence conservative mindsets. But perhaps I’m asking for too much?

Politics aside, I did thoroughly enjoy the theatre in RIOT. Although I have problems with the preachy nature of the show, some of the most memorable points were those in which the audience was able to see the passion and excitement in the voices of the performer’s. This included a powerful monologue in which Panti Bliss stated that everyone could be anything they wanted; even "Farah F*king Fawcett".

Another strong element of the show included audience participation to sing the song You Spin Me Round by Dead or Alive while Emma Goldman Belted out the lyrics to Standing in the Way of Control by the Gossip. In fact her whole act was most probably my favourite of the show, with good music and a really neat segue through the lights and music being cut, into her monologue.

The queer element was also handled well. There was definitely something in there for every sexuality to enjoy, with both straight and queer cast members. It also should be given brownie points that it mentioned trans rights as well as lesbian, gay and bisexual rights. I would however have liked to have seen more ethnic diversity. This would have most definitely strengthened the breaking-the glass-ceiling attitude the cast members had but perhaps there are only white people in Ireland?

Overall, RIOT had some strong elements but fell flat in the delivery of its message. I give it 5.5 RuPaul’s out of 10.

5 - 28 January
Sydney Festival 2018

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