Riot sticks a six-inch stiletto into The Quiet Man's Ireland.
God bless Riverdance. From this point in time it really looks like it was created by some Irish dancers after an epic six day bender in Las Vegas.
Not that there's anything wrong with that. But if you're going to blend high concepts with high camp you should probably commit to the task completely and that's exactly what This Is Pop Baby (the talented Irish theatre and events production company behind Riot at NYU's Skirball Center) has done with Riot, giving us a no-holds-barred grown up circus.
Think Riverdance but sexier and smarter and more than a little bit gay. Riot doesn't really mind if you compare it to Riverdance, hell it invites you to right at the top of the show by presenting three female singers in green Anuna type cloaks who offer Sinead O'Connor vocal stylings that practically scream made in Ireland. (Add to that that the Irish government and The Irish Arts Center are responsible for their New York debut).
Riot really is the perfect name for the show that has emerged because it's a beguiling mix of professionalism and heart, of dance and physical theatre, of men and women, gay and straight, and good God does rock out.
If you haven't heard, Ireland is having another moment on the world's stage. People are becoming more aware that our little island has been though some interesting changes lately and right on cue along comes Ireland's famous gender discombobulist and national f—king treasure Panti to literally embody some of those changes whilst she drives a six inch stiletto into Eamon de Valera's rustic reveries.
It's thrilling to watch. It's like seeing your country in the midst of a massive tectonic shift where what emerges is much better than what was shaken off. If Riot only did that it would be a success, but Riot does far more. It gives the stage to all the cast off's and castaways, the misfit kids who were once overlooked and who are now suddenly being regarded.
It's thrilling to watch. And what is their message? Dream. Because dreams are the architects of the future. Be kind. Be better. Most of all, be Farrah F—king Fawcett. Be the man or woman of your dreams.
Or that's what it says on the surface, at least. Under the hood it's smuggling in some gelignite. Riot is also a secret conversation among Irish artists about what kind of nation they want Ireland to be. Not everyone can see or hear that. Many of Riot's references will fly right over the heads of its international audiences and critics.
That's OK too, they will still find plenty to love. But being Irish and alert to deeper messages this show was sending, I was floored by the strength what I was seeing and hearing.
At one point aerialist and acrobat Ronan Brady performed to the sound of a Michael Harding memoir. In his taped reading Harding reflected on all the 'sorrowful boys' of Maynooth and the other religious seminaries, who became priests in the long ago, tens of thousands of them, living out lonely lives that are all now forgotten.
He would often see them buy flowers to fill their lonely clerical rooms, Harding remarked. They would buy them to fill the empty places, he said. As this was being read acrobat Brady was high in the air circling through a giant hoop, looking like a moving da Vinci illustration. He looked free. He looked like he was flying. It broke me a bit, the sharp contrast he invited you to draw between the past and the present.
Ireland did not cherish its children equally. Instead we grew up in a nation of winners and losers, of lucky insiders and ignored outsiders, and Riot knows this in its bones. It gently tries to make you know it too by prodding you to reflect and remember, and it is blunt about asking you to take responsibility for your own part in it. Be better, it says. Strive harder. We will help you.
A deep awareness of Irish history and culture - animated with glitter, feathers and dance – drives Riot and the people on the stage really are the true heirs of the Irish revolution.