Customs House, South Shields
Review by Claire Buchan
Based on the true events behind the UK's first ever race riot between English and Yemeni seamen in South Shields in 1930, Peter Mortimer's Riot is a compelling and thought-provoking look at a long forgotten conflict which still holds remarkable relevance to the events of today.
At the centre of the drama are a pair of real star-crossed lovers: young Yemini seaman Yussuf (Amir Boutrous) and South Shields lass Thelma (Janine Leigh-Allen), whose warring cultures make it virtually impossible to keep their romance alive.
Their troubled story and those of the people around them show the real human suffering that comes with racial prejudice and discrimination of any kind, and it is this aspect of the play that will really strike a chord with modern audiences.
The shipyards and docks of South Shields could easily be replaced with manual industries in almost any major town or city in 2008 and you would still hear the same debates about immigration, foreigners taking 'white men's' jobs and whether people of different races should become romantically involved.
These issues, which we see in news headlines almost every day, are addressed in Riot with a high level of sensitivity and artistic flair that allows the audience to view the conflict from every angle and more importantly from every side.
The riot scene itself is cleverly done with a provocative use of light and sound that takes on an almost balletic quality and the use of Arabic with projected subtitles throughout the production helps to give Riot a really authentic feel.
Out of a strong cast it is Amir Boutrous that stands out and you can genuinely feel his pain, suffering and bewilderment at being cast adrift in an unknown world.
Not only does this play preserve a vital piece of North East history, but its unique mix of humour, romance and prejudicial conflict, make it essential viewing for audiences nationwide.
I would challenge anyone who sees this play not to walk out contemplating their own attitudes to race and how we are seemingly still stuck with the same 1930s attitudes.
"Riot" runs at the Customs House, South Shields until Saturday, June 14, before a two day run at the Liverpool Arabic Arts Festival from July 18.