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27th January 2020

Review: Mother Tongue and Riot Act

Jess Johnstone reviews UMDS’ double bill of Mother Tongue and Riot Act at Tribeca Bar
Review: Mother Tongue and Riot Act
Mother Tongue. Photo: Hope Leslie.

This is a review of a double bill of the Drama Society’s Autumn Fringe Season with Hope Leslie’s original play Mother Tongue (directed by Kate Ireland) and Alexis Gregory’s verbatim piece Riot Act (directed by Lily Gray and Eleanor Potter).

Kicking off the night, Mother Tongue explored the relationship between Lola (Savannah Acquah-Storey) and her mother, Theresa (Eliza Downes). A comical two-hander that managed to delicately unfold issues surrounding motherhood, race and sex work through a mixture of dialogue and spoken word poetry.

Leslie’s writing is seamless, the characters feel relatable whilst exploring a topic that is imaginably beyond most of the audiences’ experience. Ireland’s direction was innovative, and the use of projected graphics helped to plant the narrative firmly in its context.

The simplistic set was effective at bringing the audience into Lola’s world and helped to highlight the generation gap between her and her mother. However, the transitions between the spoken word sections and naturalistic scene could have been slicker and perhaps used more effectively.

Downes and Acquah-Storey played off each other well, with Downes’ comic timing really giving the piece energy; although, I must admit, I found it hard to fully invest in the pair’s mother-daughter relationship. Ultimately, for me, the writing was the strongest element of this short and I hope to see more from Leslie in the future.

Riot Act. Photo: Raphael Bez-Cryer.

Up next was Riot Act, a verbatim hour made from interviews Alexis Gregory conducted with three gay men. Originally written as a one-man-show, Gray and Potter decided to divide the text between three actors, a decision I’m not sure paid off.

Split into three monologues, covering two continents and decades of LGBTQI+ history, Riot Act is undoubtedly an important insight into The Stonewall Riots, the AIDS crisis and ACT UP movement, and the underground drag scene of the 1970s.

First up was George Clark playing Judy Garland-obsessed Michael, one of the last remaining survivors of the Stonewall riots. Clark’s performance was understated and felt really genuine, he really drew the audience into his story and the nuances of his gesturing gave life to the character.

This was followed by Peter Silver as radical drag artist Lavinia. Giving a measured and conversational performance, it felt very much as if he was talking to a friend which effectively kept my interest.

Finally, Adam Tutt inhabited Paul, an activist in the London ACT UP movement. Tutt brought a new level of energy to the stage after the more reserved and understated portrayals from Clark and Silver, bringing a more rounded, if slightly less genuine feel to his character.

All three gave engaging performances, however, I feel they were let down by the simplistic direction.

The transitions between monologues consisted of the boys putting up posters which had some relevance to the monologue that was about to follow, which felt clumsy and distracting. Projections played whilst this took place, however; the screen was obscured by whichever performer was due to start their monologue, a factor that had perhaps been overlooked.

Considering the simplicity of the concept; monologue after monologue, in the same spot on the stage, I felt the piece as a whole could have been a lot slicker and did unfortunately become repetitive. It is a testament to the text and the actors that it remained so engaging, and it is perhaps the repetitive nature of the play that sees it work best as a one-man play.

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