- why did you focus on this point in history, and in particular
this riot, for the project?
Ralph: We wanted to do an historically-authentic play
so it was immediately clear when Hewlett-Packard said they
were 'wiring' Queen Square that we would do it's most defining
moment: the 1831 Reform Riots
The riots lent themselves to this project because they were
a very 'defined' event in a very defined place - taking place
over three days and centred on the Square - but with implications
that stretched far beyond and right up until today.
were a key event both in Bristol's history and the development
of democracy for the country as a whole.
a story, the riots were perfect to work with because they
had something of everything - personal stories, fascinating
personalities, political intrigue, huge drama.
some fascinating moments and quirky anecdotes that appear
in the play, how did you discover all these?
There's an awful lot on the riots and their historical context
in the Bristol Reference Library, the University of Bristol
Library, the Bristol Record Office etc.
helped that Charles Pinney, the Mayor, was put on trial afterwards,
so there is a literal transcription of the proceedings in
the Reference Library (Did you say, 'throw Wetherell in the
river?' 'No, your Honour, I would never have said any such
broadsheets of the time also had a field day, as you can imagine,
and there are many 'eyewitness accounts' still extent.
difficult was it to write it as a 'nonlinear' play? How does
it vary to writing a standard play with a narrative structure?
Typically, a play would be written in scenes with a beginning,
middle and end.
We've written Riot! as many (over 100) script files which
cover a huge range of events and conversations that took place
during the riots.
Queen Square divided into over 100 audio segments
people's movement determines the order in which they receive
the script files, they have to be able to work in any order
and still make sense.
meant we had to ditch a linear approach which would have put
across the precise chronology (Wetherell arrives, is pelted
with stones, the Assizes are cancelled...right through to
the final dragoon charge).
Once we'd realised this, it gave us a kind of freedom to become
much more immersed in what it must have FELT like to be in
the midst of it.
I'm very taken with the idea that, in a crowd of 20,000 people,
everyone there would have a different experience of the riots
- and that they'd all be 'right' in their contradictory accounts.
I think the technology has allowed us to recreate this, so
that one visitor might have a sense of the riots as incredibly
violent, whilst another might have been struck by the revelry
- the feasting, piano playing, country dancing, etc.
Ralph: I started off wanting to write something which
would have reactive storylines ... you know, you influence
the ending by what you listen to and in what order, a bit
like any old, what do my kids call them? - RPGs (role playing
This, as an 'experience the riots' play will do for a first
bash, but I'd like to do a lot more exploration around 'what
creative/writing structure fits?'.
should remember that this was an experiment both for the technology
and the writing: how does one write for this technological
platform? It'll be interesting to push the boundaries further
What do you hope people will gain from the experience?
Ralph: I want participants to experience what it felt
like to be in the 1831 riots, to be involved and, yes, be
I want them to walk through a city and 'see' and 'hear' the
layers of history, to 'individualise' history and make it
live through the individual, true tales about the people caught
up in events like the 1831 riots.
And also, an appreciation that a 'riot' then and now is not
a full-on 'thud and blunder' event, but has a structure, a
pattern, an ebb and flow, hilarious moments, even peaceful
Liz: My hope is that people will let the sounds 'flow'
through them, so that they can be sucked into the heart of
the riots - without the pain.
like them to be as amazed as we were at the variety of happenings,
characters and emotions during the riots, so that they can
laugh, be moved and find that the hairs on the back of their
necks stand on end.
you like to cover another event in such a way? If so, what?
Liz: The combination of interactive theatre and this
technology has huge potential for putting people into the
heart of an experience - bringing us much closer to understanding,
feeling, what it must have been like to have been a particular
person or to have lived through a particular event.
love to do this with other people, places and events - the
old Muller Homes, city streets, historical fairgrounds, the
building of the Great Western Railway - events which brought
out a rawness of experience that we can still relate to.
It would also be fascinating to do something more fantasy-based,
perhaps stretching the technology to make it even more interactive...
Hewlett-Packard and the University of Bristol talk about 'intelligent
environments', that is, environments which react to and interact
Have you ever been in a castle, or a megalithic stone circle
and wondered what the stones would say if they could talk?
What would the trees in a wood say? This may be a way of making
scene in Queen Square couldn't be more different than how
it must have been during the riot. Any ideas on how people
might enjoy the square in another 173 years?!
Ralph: Rising sea levels will mean Queen Square will
be under water in 173 years, so students at Bristol Virtual
Galaxial University will be punting over it, crooning 18th
century Venetian love ballads to their swains or doxies, and
languishing on the soft cushions quaffing Stokes Croft Sylvaner
Visit Queen Square as it was in 1831