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Local characters feature in Almeida play about the Hackney riots

PUBLISHED: 14:32 05 September 2014 | UPDATED: 14:32 05 September 2014

A red sports car set on fire by anarchists in Ellingfort Road. Photo credit Emma Bartholomew

A red sports car set on fire by anarchists in Ellingfort Road. Photo credit Emma Bartholomew

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A new play about the Hackney riots depicts local characters and uses the actual words they spoke at the time.

Cllr Ian Rathbone speaking outside Siva's looted shop in August 2011.Cllr Ian Rathbone speaking outside Siva's looted shop in August 2011.

Documentary playwright Alecky Blythe had been trying to reach Brixton in August 2011 when disturbances broke out on the streets following the shooting of Mark Duggan by police in Tottenham.

But when she realised trouble was kicking off closer to her home in Hackney, she came back and witnessed the ransacking of Siva’s Shop, a convenience store in Clarence Road run by Tamil refugee Siva Kandiah.

Local residents raised £50,000 to save Siva from bankruptcy, and Ms Blythe spent weeks working like a reporter to follow their fundraising efforts, spearheaded by Cllr Ian Rathbone and Fr Rob Wickham from St John-in-Hackney Church.

Ms Blythe also trailed figures from Stop Criminalising Hackney Youth, an organisation set up by Pembury Estate residents to draw attention to the repercussions of the jail sentences that followed the rioting.

Lucian Msamati and Clare Perkins in Little Revolution, photo by Manuel Harlan.Lucian Msamati and Clare Perkins in Little Revolution, photo by Manuel Harlan.

She concluded that “Little Revolution” ensued, hence the name of her play which has a six-week run at Islington’s Almeida Theatre.

In it she contrasts the post-riot efforts of the “poor people” on the estate and the “rich people” in Clapton Square, geographically divided by Clarence Road, in a portrait showing none of the frustrations which fuelled the riots had yet been addressed.

Colin, a barber from Clarence Road with a dry wit, is included as a kind of Greek chorus, commenting on events as they unfold.

Cllr Rathbone, who is going to watch the play along with others portrayed including Siva, was initially sceptical of Ms Blythe when she asked to follow him around, and made sure to verify that the playwright was legitimate.

“She was following me around a lot of the time with a microphone. I had to check her out first of all, for all I knew she could have been a police spy,” he joked.

“I’d completely forgotten about this woman, then she suddenly phoned me up a few months ago, and she said: ‘I’ve written a play’.

“I’m kind of intrigued and slightly amused somebody would be bothered to take up our situation and turn it into a play.

“With a situation like that, even though she was involved and even though I’ve had talks with her since then, it’s not going to be like it was, dramatically she’s telescoping things.

“I’m a little bit apprehensive about it, but what I hope is we come across like a bunch of people, who did what we could in an unexpected crisis situation, and that we did what we thought was right and what we could do with the limited resources we had.”

n For more details visit almeida.co.uk.


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