A tour of LGBT history through the people that made it, Riot Act is a compelling one-man show that educates as much as it inspires. Performed verbatim from interviews with Michael-Anthony Nozzi, one of the only remaining Stonewall survivors; Lavinia Co-op, a 1970s London radical-drag artist; and Paul Burston, a prominent 1990s AIDS activist, Alexis Gregory provides us with 50 years of oral history, with music from each era signalling the change of persona.
Educates as much as it inspires.
Entering a pink-flooded stage to the sound of Judy Garland, it's clear that Riot Act is a love letter to queerness. Through the persona of Michael-Anthony Nozzi, Gregory begins to detail the characters that populated Christopher Street on that fateful night in 1969. We discover how a showing of A Star is Born was pivotal in the night’s events. As with all iconic moments in history, there will be some that contest the details, in particular that the death of Judy Garland was an important factor in the Stonewall riots. But it's clear that Riot Act’s aim is to provoke conversations about these moments in history, elevating the voices of those who were there.
Riot Act leads the audience through important moments in queer history, as Gregory skillfully moves us from the night of the Stonewall riots through the turbulent years of the AIDs epidemic all the way to the explosion of ecstacy in the 90s London club scene. These intimate monologues are most powerful in their realness, as his subjects pepper their speech with references to prominent 80s gay bars and historical drag performers. These references to landmarks in the struggle for gay liberation were particularly appreciated by audience members in the know.
In fact, Riot Act excels in its proximity to its subjects. As the playwright leaves the words of his interviewees raw and unadulterated, he allows the audience to become intimately acquainted with each character. We’re offered a cup of tea by Lavinia Co-op and given a hearty rant by Nozzi on how to treat an old queen.
Although Gregory was clearly more comfortable interpreting the British characters, his compelling storytelling kept the audience captivated. With a great amount of ease, Gregory wills the audiences in with a cheeky wink and leaves the audience jarred with homophobic slurs.
With present-day Pride a parade of glitzy corporate floats, Alexis Gregory takes queer activism back to its roots. From teary accounts of the AIDs crisis to humbling tales of homophobic abuse, Riot Act is a necessary reminder of how far we’ve come, and how far we’ve got left to go.