As you enter what was originally the Council Chamber of the old Battersea Town Hall ten minutes before the start of Song Of Riots, you see four men dressed in shorts and singlets wrestling vigorously on a mat, whilst behind a gauze screen at the back of the room, two women stand motionless. Are these men soldiers? Why are they wrestling? Why are the women not moving? Then the lights dim and the four men by now bathed in sweat, stop wrestling, disperse and the performance begins. The men get dressed, the two women emerge from behind the screen whilst high on some scaffolding at the back of the stage behind the gauze a cellist starts playing whilst singing a mournful Celtic folk song. This is the start of what is quite a remarkable theatrical experience.
Song Of Riots is the story of two boys – one a prince in a fairy tale and one the son of Polish immigrants in 21st century London, told completely separately to start with. The fairy tale is spoken in rhyme and has a wonderful rhythmic quality. The modern day story is told in poetic prose with the son beatboxing as a counterpoint to the folk songs of the fairy tale. The two boys are living parallel lives – possibly in different times – but they eventually meet as their stories unfold.
It’s a coming of age story and the two boys from these two totally different backgrounds go through puberty with hormones raging as their testosterone takes over their actions, causing them to wreak havoc within their respective families. It’s also how they react to their fathers when they realise that the man they’ve looked up to since they were children, is no longer that faultless, heroic figure. And it’s also about how they interact with their mothers at a time when their sexuality is emerging at a rapid rate and confusion reigns in their minds about how they should react to the situation.
Song Of Riots has a wonderful mythical quality to it taking in various elements such as “Iron Hans” from the Brothers Grimm, the Oedipus myth, William Blake’s “Tiger Tiger” and melding it with a modern day story of the riots in London in 2011. It sounds like it shouldn’t work but it definitely does.
The sheer physicality of the piece is astounding. Based on the work of the Polish Laboratory Theatre, the total energy of the performances is astounding with hardly any of the cast of seven standing still for a moment. They throw themselves about with careless abandon, climbing the scaffolding, throwing themselves at each other; there must have been a liberal use of bandages and liniment in the long, exhausting creative process!
Awake Projects are a diverse theatre group coming from Norway, Sweden (where they’re based), Poland, Australia and the UK. Director (and founder of the company) Christopher Sivertsen appears as the malevolent “Iron Hans” as well as “Adam” the Polish father and brings a real menace to both parts. (Sivertsen is standing in for another actor who was injured playing the part!). Maria Sendow brings a superb stillness to the part of “Queen”, sings and even plays toy piano. Oliviero Papi is a powerful yet gentle “King” and Anna Krotoska as “Magda” shows her vulnerability as a single parent in an unfamiliar, hostile country. The two boys are played by Jason Callender as “Prince” and Christopher Finnegan as “Lucasz”. Callender has to convey a lot of emotion through dance and movement which he does superbly whilst Finnegan brings a testosterone fuelled manicness to the part with incredible energy and courage. Mention must also be made of Hanna Bjork who spends most of the evening behind the gauze playing cello and singing like an angel.
The piece is written by Lucy Maycock in collaboration with the cast. There’s a fantastic mixture of poetry and prose and a rhythm that makes the whole piece move along at pace with never a dull moment. She also wrote some of the lyrics to the songs and these combine seamlessly with songs that use the poetry of William Blake, all of which were set to music by Sendow and Bjork.
‘Multi-media’ is an overused phrase in theatre but Song Of Riots uses contemporary dance, gymnastics, rap, folk music, film projections and superb lighting to ensure that this piece can use the phrase without fear of contradiction.
I’m not 100% sure that all the threads quite came together in the tapestry of Song Of Riots but it’s a magnificent piece and deserves to be seen by as big an audience as possible.
Review by Alan Fitter
Awake Projects &The North Wall present: Song of Riots
Written by Lucy Maycock | Directed by Christopher Sivertsen & Lucy Maycock
Battersea Arts Centre 13th – 17th October 2015
Running Time: 1hr 20 mins | Suitable for ages 12
Director Christopher Sivertsen & Lucy Maycock Writer Lucy Maycock
Designer Alex Berry Music Maria Sendow & Hanna Björk
Hanna Björck, Jason Callender, Christopher Finnegan, Anna Krotoska, Oliviero Papi, Marcin Rudy & Maria Sendow
Following a four-year collaboration between Awake Projects and The North Wall, Song of Riots will be performed in London for the first time, following its premiere in Oxford last April and a Scandinavian tour. Co-directed by Christopher Sivertsen (Awake Projects; Song of the Goat) and Lucy Maycock (artistic director of The North Wall), the show is performed by an international ensemble who previously garnered critical acclaim for Awake (Jackson’s Lane 2011, Edinburgh Fringe 2013).
Song of Riots uses text, song, physical theatre and the poetry of William Blake to tell a coming-of-age story of two boys. One, a prince from a fairy tale – the only child of a King and a Queen. The other, a kid from the inner city – the only son of Polish immigrants. Both boys need to leave home. Both are out in the night. Both are looking to find golden opportunities. When they meet, a riot breaks out.
Inspired by London riots of 2011, Song of Riots asks urgent questions about modern masculinity, exploring how boys cross the bridge from childhood to maturity, and what happens if they fail to make that journey. Who are these wild boys, running loose in our cities and on our streets? And is there a kingdom left for them to inherit?