It is two years ago today that a vigil held for Mark Duggan sparked an outbreak of rioting in North London which raged for five days and would eventually spread through the Midlands, Greater Manchester and Merseyside.
Chalk Farm is not the first theatrical response to the unrest – The Tricycle Theatre staged The Riots, Gillian Slovo‘s verbatim piece, in November 2011. But whereas The Riots lent heavily on the testimony of public officials and community leaders, Chalk Farm attempts to get under the skin of some of those at the bottom of society who were unfairly demonised in the aftermath.
The play is a two-hander which focusses on Maggie and Jamie, a young single-mother and her 14-year-old son, who are housed in an inner-city tower block along a fault-line of social division. The play is what Joyce MacMillan described as a ‘searing insight into the politics of blame’.
The pair describe the play as an attempt to investigate the real stories behind the riots and to scratch beneath the surface of superficial media analysis.
“In the days, and the weeks and months that followed, we were hungry for a more satisfactory discussion in response to these monumental events. To blame all this – as many commentators were and still are – on nothing other than the individual choices, actions, and morality of those involved and their families was too obviously a simplistic cop-out, an extension of the Thatcherite ideal that there is no such thing as society. Alongside individual accountability, what bigger forces might be at work in causing such unrest? What might the story of these riots feel like to those involved? We did our research. We read testimonies, in-depth reports, and interviews. The characters of Maggie and Jamie – their relationship, their stories, the decisions they make – are all drawn from the stories of many real people like them.”
Hurley and Taudevin are an increasingly prominent pair on the new writing scene. Their theatre is politically engaged but always charged with personal resonance, as they explain in this interview with David MacLennan.
AJ Taudevin’s Some Other Mother is a story about a family of asylum claimants kept in limbo up in a Glasgow tenement, told through the eyes of a child. It was staged at the Edinburgh’s Traverse earlier this year, as part of Scottish Refugee Week.
Meanwhile another of Hurley’s plays is being reprised at the Edinburgh Fringe. Beats tackles the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act of 1994, a sub-section of which infamously granted the police the power to ban public gatherings around ‘amplified music wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats.’ A monologue cut with multimedia effects, Beats was heralded as one of the most innovative shows at last year’s Fringe, and also scooped Best New Play at the Critics’ Awards for Theatre in Scotland.
You can head to theatreVOICE to hear Kieran Hurley discussing political theatre with critic Matt Trueman, in an interview recorded at the Bush Theatre’s Radar Festival last winter.