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Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 review at the Gate Theatre, London – ‘intense, yet intimate’

Nina Bowers in Twilight: Los Angeles 1992 at Gate Theatre, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton Nina Bowers in Twilight: Los Angeles 1992 at Gate Theatre, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton

In 1992 actor and playwright Anna Deavere Smith created a verbatim piece about the LA riots. She interviewed over 300 people for the project. Director Ola Ince’s production whittles this down to around 20, all of whom are played by Nina Bowers.

She kicks things off by asking the audience, seated in a circle around her on hot pink chairs as if at a community meeting, whether they believe rioting is a valid form of protest.

The LA riots followed the acquittal by an all-white jury of the four police officers caught on camera brutally beating Rodney King. The death of 15-year-old Latasha Harlins, shot and killed by a Korean grocery store owner, who was sentenced to community service and fined $500, also exacerbated racial tensions in the city.

Over the course of 80 minutes, Bowers plays witnesses and jurors, African American activists and members of the Korean community. She plays King’s aunt and Reginald Denny, the truck driver who was severely beaten during the riots. and a pregnant woman who was shot, moving nimbly between these roles.

Designer Jacob Hughes and lighting designer Anna Watson use flickering fluorescent tubes to capture the chaos of a city in meltdown in the small space of the Gate. Then Ince dilutes the intensity by including an interlude in which tea is served and people are encouraged to talk to one another. Talking is important here, ditto listening.

Though occasionally lacking in clarity of character, Bowers’ performance is energetic and dynamic.

Twilight captures the complexity of this episode in American racial politics and acts as wider reminder of what happens when prejudice is systemic, power is imbalanced – the word injustice recurs again and again – and people are made to feel their lives do not matter.

Director Ola Ince: ‘I have an obsession with how power and race are interwoven’

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Intense, yet intimate, verbatim theatre about the LA riots featuring a vibrant performance by Nina Bowers