To mark the 30th anniversary of the Toxteth Riots, The Unity Theatre is premiering Last Dance at the Rialto, a new play written by a former police officer who served, and was injured, in the violence.
It is written by Dave Potts, who at the time of the riots was a 20-year-old constable and was injured at the Rialto, at the heart of the stand off. Telling the story of new recruit Ben Parkinson, Last Dance identifies the issues behind the rioting and examines the emotional responses of how people react in violent situations.
On the eve of the rioting, Ben is reunited with childhood friend Dezzy, a garage mechanic. With tension growing on the streets, they find themselves on opposing sides and struggle to rekindle their friendship and explain the chaos around them. Ben has to decide between his allegiance to his former friend and the entrenched attitudes of his older colleague Frank. The cast is lead by Neil Caple, seen most recently in the Everyman’s final production of Macbeth.
Dave Potts has waited 30 years to tell this story. He said: “I was conscious that the only people who never had a real say after the riots was the rank-and-file police officers, many of whom had been seriously injured. After the riots there were some very creaky bandwagons jumped on and the causes were totally misrepresented by individuals who undoubtedly had their own agendas.”
He adds: “There were a number of factors which can explain what happened and I do not shy away from any of them, I simply show the truth as I know it and let the audience make their own decisions. I have also tried to show how police officers often use dark humour to diffuse stressful situations, and there are plenty of funny moments.”
Potts joined Merseyside Police in 1980, aged 18. In July 1981 he found himself in the thick of the Toxteth Riots. He later served in the Operational Support Division and CID, and was retired from the force having been assaulted whilst on duty.
In 2008 he was shortlisted for the Red Planet prize for his pilot TV drama Sprogs, based on his first year in the police. In 2009, he became one of the BBC’s Northern Voices writers’ programme. He was awarded a bursary by the BBC to develop his idea Armed Response, a cop show set around the lives of a firearms unit.
More than two hundred retired officers from Merseyside, Greater Manchester, Cheshire and Lancashire assisted in the research for Last Dance at the Rialto. Potts still has the helmet he wore during the riots and one of the actors will be using it in the production.
Last Dance at the Rialto is his first play at the Unity, and runs from from July 12 to 16.