Fri 21st October 2011


Michael Beale

at 02:36 on 22nd Oct 2011



Alex Wheatle's [MBE] 'Uprising' is story about the writers life, from conception to the publishing of his first book: 'Brixton Rock'. Interesting and engaging, I can certainly say that the performance deserved a larger audience, however, the show had its own weaknesses in its story teller. Alex started the play with lyrics from his days as a MC and from then on he spoke about his life, growing up with racism, poverty, the Brixton Riots, all of this without a family. So clearly, this performance goes through some deep and emotional subject matter. Which Alex dealt with fairly well, but he never seemed to me to be a natural performer. He began the talk rather shakily: he swayed on stage, used many, many unnecessary hand gestures and spoke in a rushed manner; moving from one segment of his life to another in a block like way, preventing me, as a viewer, to fully immerse in the construction of his life. However, as he grew up in the story, so he grew in the performance. He calmed down, and while he isn't a naturally emphatic speaker he revealed exquisite comic timing and managed to present the horror of his experience in prison behind a façade of humour. This humour and friendliness in his manner enabled him to draw pathos from the audience during the darker points of his life. As a result of this I always felt like I wanted to hear the next part of his story: from a traumatic engagement with a rastaman in jail to reuniting with a long lost friend.

The main thing that I found detracted from the performance as a whole was the sudden lunges into singing. Clearly the lyrics were an example of how his life has impacted upon his life as a poet, however, they were without warning, not sung particularly well and once finished he would immediately move straight on into the next 'section' of his story. However, it was a brave attempt at preventing the talk from being a monotonous monologue.

Following the talk, Alex allowed the audience to ask questions and showed a great insight into the politics and particular forces which moved the people of Brixton to riot against the police in 1981. He then compared these riots with the riots which occurred this summer, stating that there was a distinct difference between the 'uprising' which occurred back then and the 'fun' that occurred in 2011. Overall, I found Alex to be friendly, clever and insightful, however, he is not a natural performer and this detracted from the potential power of his talk, which could have been extremely moving indeed.


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