Kemble’s Riot


Zincbar Performing Arts version of a now little known piece of theatre history is given a very direct treatment because we as members of the audience have a crucial part to play in the action. Kemble’s Riot is based on a true sequence of events. In the early 1800’s John Kemble (Richard Hansell) and his older sister, Sarah Siddons (Jacqueline Roberts), had become extremely popular theatrical performers.

Unfortunately, Kemble’s theatre, Covent Garden was burned to the ground. Backed by sizable investment, he commissioned the rebuilding of Covent Garden as a state of the art “Palace of Drama”. To pay for this investment, he increased ticket prices. This resulted in a major protest from members of his audience.

Adrian Bunting’s depiction of this outcome brings the present day audience into the action. Equally important in the cast are Steve North as Henry Clifford, the leader of the protest to keep to the old prices, and Julie Nash as Mary Austen, the leader of the pro-Kemble faction. Both are seated in the audience and encourage us to voice our feelings, chanting and jeering as appropriate.

The tension builds on Kemble who for over 60 days remains intransigent, despite his sister’s intuition that he will eventually have to give way which he does reluctantly. What was impressive is how a very mixed audience in terms of age really became involved in the action.

As a footnote, one piece of action I will make no mention of is how the Government of the day did not clamp down on the protesters. Remember these events took place when the memory of the French Revolution would still be fresh. To find out how the protestors avoided this, you would need to see the show.

Reviewed by Ben

Pleasance Dome/Queen Dome; 23

1 to 27 August 2012 (not 13)

16.00 – 17.00

Fringe Programme Page Number: 290


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