In a squat in Edinburgh in the midst of the riots, Miles and Kristy have set up their own little home of pillaged potpourri and Wetherspoons sauce sachets. Kristy is the St Andrews born daughter of wealthy parents and longs for the success and advantage she was promised when she came to university. Miles, whose origins are vague enough to suggest sitting comfortably in the middle class boundary, lives in horror that it was his friend’s charm and not his intellect that found employment. Their third roommate is Beryl, a Harvey Nichol’s store mannequin that accidentally found its way into Mile’s hands during the riots and has inadvertently become a symbol of youth rebellion for everybody in the city. The fourth arrival into the squat is Billy, a young Glaswegian with a cut above his right eye and an inexplicable dedication to the cause he thinks Miles has lead. Thus begins something between a comedy of manners, a quirky romantic comedy, and a crucial message about the position of students in modern society.
Thrive Theatre may not be in the most central of venues or have the biggest of reputations, but Riot Squat is a show you absolutely must see, especially if you are young and worried about just about anything. The play is a beautifully scripted, if sometimes too referential: jokes about Facebook and Little Miss Sunshine seem to be there to make a point about a particular generation rather than expressing fresh sentiments from these character’s mouths, but Kristy’s condemnation of her own desire for quirkiness almost feels like a refreshing nod towards these odd moments of problematic reference. In fact, these actors do a rare thing in that they take a blinding three hander and continue to elevate it further and further in spectacular performances.
Gemma Stroyan as Kristy enters the play as your atypical slightly cutting posh other half, but as the play continues both actor and script discover exactly who she is. Her monologue about what she deserves in life hits home like an arrow through the heart and her behaviour throughout the play - whether ethical or not - never feels unjustified somehow. Alex Hope as Miles is also almost impossibly charming, if at times a bit shrieky, and his battle between what one ought to do, and what one ends up doing, is played out on so many levels and is so sublime in part because he knows his course of ‘correct behaviour’ is never going to work for him. He is a sad inditement of what it is to be young today: knowing that a gleaming CV has nothing on a good networking lunch and the capacity to throw a dinner party. Billy, played with heartwarming naivety and yet incredible worldliness by Ross Donnachie, could feel infuriating due to arriving into a play where two characters and their relationship are so delightfully established. However, after some awkward first moments that felt a bit too much like a french farce he slips perfectly into the show when his role becomes clear.
It is often hard to find good pieces of new writing performed simply and well at the Fringe, and Riot Squat is a perfect example of this done right. What Riot Squat does as well, however, is even rarer: instead of just a beautifully written and well acted play that taps into wider, ancient issues, this performance steps into the recent past, grabs issues that affect each and every one of us and take them gently by the throat to be throttled before you. Whilst constantly comfortable and pleasant - and maybe lacking some of the menace they know lurks beyond the doors - Riot Squat talks directly to every person in the room in a way that hopefully will not be relevant in a year or two, and it is this confidence and relevance that makes it a must see this Fringe.