RIOT

Thu 27th – Sat 29th October 2011

reviews

Oscar Millar

at 10:33 on 28th Oct 2011

2agrees

0disagrees

The idea of a musical set in IKEA is about as plausible as the idea of a riot in the very same place. IKEA is the epitome of the Scandinavian dream: subtle, emotionless and peaceful, so neither jazz hands nor fisticuffs seem appropriate. Try telling that to the Wardrobe Theatre Company.

Set in Edmonton, North London, against the backdrop of IKEA's biggest store opening yet in the UK, RIOT attempts to capture the spirit of a night that saw over 5000 well-to-do north Londoners turn into savages at the prospect of £5 bed frames and half price KÖTTBULLAR (or meatballs, if you’re a philistine). That night saw umpteen injuries and even a near-fatal stabbing and it seems that the intention of the creators of this play was to develop the pure absurdity of the situation, the contradiction implicit in IKEA-based violence, to the point where there was little left to mock.

The set is arguably the most innovative element of the show (although innovations are about as common in this production as sandals in IKEA). Entirely constructed from IKEA products it is a masterpiece of functionality. Relatively Spartan, every small piece is used to good effect. The lighting, for example, is provided entirely by bedside lamps, fifteen, at least, which gives each of the 11 performers the opportunity to blend seamlessly from actors to technicians with the flick of a switch as nothing is static. The set doesn’t extend much further, bar a few garden chairs which at any moment can represent (entirely convincingly): shop doors, zimmer frames or storage room walls.

It is not just the garden chairs that are in flux, everything and everyone in this production is constantly moving at break-neck speed, flitting between roles as store managers and mums, providing the music and lighting, and even special effects (look out for inspired use of confetti and garden lights at the climax). Yet, there is something undeniably cool about the whole ensemble. They know their production is witty, and the audience should love it, having had rave reviews in that bear-pit of comedy and drama –the Edinburgh Fringe. The praise they received at the festival was well deserved, and it is common knowledge that you only get so far with an incredibly tight script, which they have. It would be easy, in the midst of such intelligent physical comedy, to lose track of the charm of the writing. The early scenes showing the introduction of new staff to each other are infused with a Gervais-esque comic awkwardness while the latter scenes following a night-long friendship between a staff member and a lonesome old man are a genuinely poignant.

The music is an inspired inclusion, and it is ridiculous how multi-faceted some of these performers are, comic acting is hard enough, but doing it in between saxophone solos is all the more impressive. The term musical (and my earlier reference to the oft slated ‘jazz hands’) may lead people down the wrong track with this one. There are very few attempts to rhyme FRAMSTÅ (meaning storage, or something) with anything else (I would suggest hamster, personally) and the music is very finely interwoven with the dialogue, big chorus numbers there are not.

In between belly laughs, I even had a moment to think about the potency of a show about rioting, in the current summer and autumn of civil disobedience. There is a nerve potentially being touched here, but what I like most is it doesn’t centre around ‘societal breakdown’ or as the Daily Mail so charmingly called the London rioters of august ‘Scum’. It is about the very people who write and buy those papers, who watch plays and form what many believe to be the honest face of British society. It is about how greed can take them over, even when they have so much to lose, it shows that maybe there is a looter in all of us.

As I walked home, I remembered my original scepticism about the idea of a musical set in IKEA, then I remembered an old saying that ‘true charm is the suspension of judgement’ and realised I had been well and truly charmed. This show made me proud to be from a country that could so undermine the peaceful paradigm that is IKEA. Armed only with a frightening capacity for bargain hunting and casual violence this event could only happen in Britain. I would also like to think, though, that such an irony-soaked look at that night could only happen here too, because no one can mock us quite like we can. If you are going to see only one sarcastic furniture-retail based musical this year, here it is, because I’m still smiling a day later.

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