Riot Act, written and performed by Alexis Gregory, is a one man show that lasts just one hour and is comprised of three monologues. Gregory interviewed three gay men: Michael-Anthony Nozzi, one of the last people alive to have been present at the Stonewall riots, Lavinia Co-op, a radical drag queen, and Paul Burston, an LGBT activist. He’s presumably cut and rearranged their words, but they’re their words, verbatim, nonetheless. Gregory performs as all three, reciting their words and imitating their voices. On a set-less stage with a few simple costume changes, he brings these men, and their stories, to life.
Directed by Rikki Beadle-Blair, Riot Act is unforgettable. Through this show, Gregory has given a voice to people who were not being widely heard before. The first of the stories, from Michael-Anthony Nozzi, is an incredible account of that night in New York, 1969, when the Stonewall Riots began. I, perhaps ignorantly, had of course heard of the Stonewall Riots, but never delved any further, and his version of events is truly remarkable. Gregory, if you ignore his New York accent, which is a little patchy to say the least, gives Nozzi a sense of fear, loss and nostalgia that is unimaginable for someone like me. What happened to him that night, what he saw and the details he’s held in his mind for so long, are harrowing. Followed by the sheer number of people he lost to the AIDS crisis in the years after, this is a heart-breaking story. Especially for people my age, who have never really experienced the AIDS crisis. Riot Act forces you to not think about this crisis in statistics, but on a personal level, as these three men all lost a huge number of friends to the disease.
Gregory as Lavinia Co-op brings some light relief, with talk of radical drag, Mick Jagger and ’70s London, but she too has stories of friends loved and lost to AIDS. And finally, Gregory brings us Paul Burston, an activist with the organisation Act Up. Handing out leaflets in a slogan t-shirt, he tells us of his experience of the AIDS crisis, and like Nozzi and Lavinia, how a significant number of his friends died. His monologue is the most affecting, as he considers a wide range of aspects, like the
value of youth and beauty in gay culture and the role of both gay and straight women in the both the gay liberation movement and AIDS crisis.
Gregory has done something magical with Riot Act, and it was an honour to hear these remarkable stories. His careful collation of the words of Nozzi, Lavinia and Burston are performed with honesty, authenticity and respect. These older men fought a battle that is often forgotten, and that’s hard for our younger generation to even imagine. Riot Act chronicles, as Burston put it “the sacrifices we made so that they could get their arse out on a carnival float”, and it’s wonderful to hear about these sacrifices from the heroes that are still here and willing to tell them.
Riot Act is playing at the King’s Head Theatre as part of its Queer Season until 5 August. For more information and tickets, click here.
Photo: Dawson James