For someone who only knows the Rialto area of Toxteth as a place to get the papers, a takeaway and a grotty bottle of wine its recent history is nothing short of fascinating. It’s almost impossible to imagine the place as the battleground it became in the summer of 1981 — It must be strange enough for those who do remember. These days, there’s already enough parallels to be made with the 1980s, and with people making casual predictions those days of fraught political tension could return to Britain’s city streets once more, a play like Last Dance at the Rialto was always going to be important on more than a retrospective level — if done correctly. Fortunately, it gets things spot on and is a moving and illuminating piece of work that serves its subject matter well.
This new play by former policeman Dave Potts packs a lot of punches into its 60 minutes. Its comedy is smarter than your average Scouse play and its dramatic tension truly gripping. The not-quite-autobiographical tale of new recruit Ben (Thomas Sean Hughes) and his relationships over the course of the Riots with his big-mouthed colleague Frank (Michael Ryan), father figure Sarge Ted (Neil Caple) and old school friend Dezzy (Errol Smith) is informative, entertaining and wise.
Potts, who had front line experience of the Riots, writes in the programme that “this play is about what happens when people don’t listen”. He certainly writes with humility and without judgement, and the play’s power lies in its good, solid script. There’s also enough of a feeling you’re learning a few insider secrets of the Force, and it did seem as if there were plenty of coppers in the audience last night. You watch Last Dance at the Rialto and leave the Unity wondering how such a thing could have ever happened, hoping it is something we never do see again. Because metaphorically at least, things are never black and white.
Last Dance at the Rialto is on at the Unity until Saturday (July 16).