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Lyric Ensemble present The Mob Reformers | Lyric Hammersmith Theatre

Lyric Ensemble. Photo - Bronwen Sharp.
Lyric Ensemble. Photo – Bronwen Sharp.

‘Can Theatre make the change in the world that we want to see?‘ The Lyric Ensemble, a group comprised of ambitious young actors and theatre-makers, kick-boxed this question for nine months and found inspiration in England’s history of rebellion.

The fruit of this innovative team of creatives, under the bold guidance of director Holly Race Roughan, is realised in The Mob Reformers, a dive-bomber of a production that swoops in low and hits its target through an adaptation of the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, sparked by the imposition of a poll tax during the reign of 14-year-old King Richard II.

Written by Omar El-Khairy, the play is a potent mash-up of medieval England and post-Brexit Britain, celebrity culture and class struggle, dance music and battle rap, and an MC type warm-up to ensure audience participation.

Particularly enjoyable is a segment with talk show host, Danielle, a hilarious encounter with the jargon of conservative politics so accurate I could swear I heard Michael Gove speak. On a more serious note, a soothsayer mounts a soapbox to warn of the dangers of revolt – which might lead to an even more brutal regime – while disinterested members of the public practise dance moves.

Although in some aspects, The Mob Reformers is still a work in progress, it more than makes up for its rough spots in its loyal portrayal of the men who led the Peasants’ Revolt in English medieval history, Wat Tyler, John Ball and Jack Straw.

In one of the play’s shockingly bloody moments – and there are several that will have you gripping the edge of your seat – Wat Tyler is attacked and killed by William Walworth, the Lord Mayor of London. Following Tyler’s murder, King Richard II appeases the rebel army with a promise to abolish serfdom but, as expected, he then commands his troops to storm the villages and hang the men who took part in the Revolt.

Anyone who knows their English history is still appalled by these events, but rather than end the play with the audience immersed in the injustices suffered by an oppressed people, the play strays from its theatrical import and switches to a show-reel type video that is entirely out of place.

The video follows the play’s actors as they journey through London, re-tracing the points where the Peasants’ Revolt took place, followed by a futile attempt to contact the current Lord Mayor of the City of London, Peter Estlin. Predictably, the group comes up against a barrier of security.

What else could they expect? Cheekily, they use their experience to emphasise the premise of the play, that those in power still fail to communicate with the ‘peasant folk’.

If the Lyric Ensemble feel it necessary to produce a showreel of its actors and the aspects of their journey that helped to nourish the ideas for The Mob Reformers, it is best shown in a separate space of the Lyric Hammersmith, perhaps in the lobby, but should not be used to interrupt the dramatic import of the play.

However, this is a blip in what is an entirely enjoyable evening, an encounter with a powerful, energised piece of theatre filled with bold ideas and actors brimming with talent and verve. Highly recommended.

4 stars

Review by Loretta Monaco

The Lyric Ensemble, a group of aspiring young actors aged between 18-25 years old, present their newly devised play The Mob Reformers between Wednesday 19th and Saturday 29th June at the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre. This performance marks the culmination of nine months of industry training at the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre, preparing these young actors for a career in theatre.

On the morning of 14th June 1381, the rebels pushed west along the Thames, burning the houses of the officials around Westminster and opening the Westminster jail. The Mob Reformers is a radical reimagining of a play about an infamous 1381 London stabbing that would go on to change the course of British history. In a new version by Omar El-Khairy and devised with the Lyric Ensemble, this production will be directed by Holly Race Roughan.

The cast includes: Bashiie Baptiste, Wesley Bozonga, Kane Feagan, Niamh Granville, Savas Hutchison-Fuat, Gavin Joseph, Ele McKenzie, Roseanne Musgrove, Priyanka Patel, Danielle Tama, Kamran Vahabi and Joseph Vaiana.

Writer Omar El-Khairy
Director Holly Race Roughan
Assistant Director Yasmin Hafesji
Trainee Assistant Director Johnson Adebayo
Designer Ranya El Rafaey
Lighting Designer Simeon Miller
Sound and Music Mwen Music
Filmmaker Dorothy Allen-Pickard

The Lyric Ensemble programme is generously supported by the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation and the McGrath Charitable Trust.

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