Britain was broken: writing the riots

Last summer, Archie W. Maddocks was inspired: inspired by the city he lived in, the things he witnessed and the people he saw. In this special guest blog, he tells us more.

Smoke spiralled out of a charred shell of a car while hoards of hooded figures regrouped around it, flames and bats in hands, ready to go to war with the police, the politicians, the system. Certain streets descended into chaos while others were left unsurprisingly unblemished by the hurricane taking over the country. The youth were to blame. Britain was broken. Right?

To me, the riots represented the same enigma as a well-crafted novel or slowly floating iceberg: those unwilling to acknowledge what lies beneath the surface will only see what is right in front of them. I felt that people would never truly look at the reasons for the riots happening. Being an angry, reactionary species, people would quickly point the finger of blame to those who they felt were at fault. It was always going to be the fault of someone else, someone removed from themselves, someone alien to their world. In reality, the August riots of 2011 were the fault of everyone. But, I felt, no-one was ever going to acknowledge that idea. So I decided to explore it in Mottled Lines.

I wrote Mottled Lines because I felt that people needed to look at the culmination of the summer’s discontent from different viewpoints. The riots were not caused by one group of people. They were not caused by thugs wanting to make a mess. They were caused by a country-wide disenfranchisement. People sought to improve their lives in some way, and what other opportunity would they have? Let’s not forget, there were teachers rioting, office assistants, artists, university students. This was not caused by a singular group of people, this was diverse. People were unified despite their divisions by their similar feelings in the situation; they weren’t happy and they wanted to make some kind of statement. But, again, unless people were willing to look beneath the surface of things, they would only see what was right in front of them.

I can remember reading people blaming other factions of society for why the riots occurred and thinking, “So, what, you didn’t have any impact on the lives of other people?” Whenever a substantial and varied group of people move and react in the same way to something, there has to be more than one source. There couldn’t just have been a sole reason that people got up and took to the streets. The issue was complicated, yet people tried to make it simpler by suggesting that it was the fault of someone else. The ever-elusive ‘other’.

I wanted to take a look at different archetypes in society and try and think about what they thought about the riots. Why they thought that these “incidents” occurred. It led me to the conclusion that everyone has this idea that their word is gospel, while the voices of others are misinformed. Each character in Mottled Lines presents a different viewpoint about why the riots happened. Each character also makes it clear what they think about the other members of society. Looking at it from different angles brought a fuller picture of how the riots may have occurred.

It’s always a good idea to look at things through the eyes of others, to try and see something from another person’s viewpoint, no matter how alien that may seem. Not only does that make you understand them a little bit better, it makes you more aware of yourself and how you may be perceived. This was essential to the thinking behind Mottled Lines; I wanted to explore the real thoughts and opinions of those who don’t usually get heard. Some of the characters in the play are listened to, but none of them are truly heard.

Society would work if people took the time to hear other people. Real talk, how is some rich Bullingdon-boy nob-end going to even try and relate to a road man that has to do x y and z to survive? How is someone in a perfect little bubble going to understand the problems that policemen have to go through on a day-to-day basis? How is anyone going to understand anyone but themselves and the people like themselves unless they hear the others? And how will people ever get heard without communication? This play investigates the idea of communication and suggests that there is a lack of it in our society due to the prevalence of fear.

Mottled lines is fundamentally a play about fear. How fear can run the lives of people and motivate them to do things they would never usually do. And that’s what I think happened with the riots. During the years before that fateful summer, there was a distinctive atmosphere in the air. My friends and I all felt it. Other people must have as well. Whether that was fear or foreboding I can’t say, but there was something out of the ordinary there.

What caught my eye in regards to the riots was that I saw people were united by their divisions. They were united in their fight against something. Or, their fight for something. But they were united. And they were all most definitely fighting. I wanted to capture that essence in the play, and although there characters are juxtaposed against each other, and alienated from one another, they are all essentially united by their division. A division that has been born from fear.

“When there’s a gap left in understanding, that’s when people let the fear breed”. And where else are we left to go if people are afraid of one another? The most common reaction to something we don’t understand or something we fear is to try and kill it, to destroy. If people fear other people in their society, will that not eventually culminate into some kind of event that resembles a riot?

Come and see Mottled Lines and find out what happens when you let the fear breed…

Mottled Lines plays at the Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, from 10 to 14 July. For tickets and more information, visit the theatre’s website here. You can follow Archie on twitter @AWMDX.

Image credit: Archie W Maddocks