Riot

South Shields, on the south bank of the mouth of the River Tyne, has what is probably the oldest established Arab population in England, descended from Yemeni seamen who settled there in the early twentieth century. If this is little known, it is because relations have been harmonious, and the town is well integrated.

None the less, on 2nd August, 1930, there was a riot in the Mill Dam area (where the Customs House now stands) which involved Yemeni sailors, the men of the Seamen’s Minority Movement and the Communist Party, ranged against the shipping employers, the police and a section of the National Union of Seamen who, in a desire to protect “white” jobs, were prepared to support a system of giving jobs which discriminated against the Yemeni sailors. This has been described as Britain’s first race riot.

Peter Mortimer was commissioned by the Customs House to write a play on the subject, and the result wasRIOT, first staged at the Customs House in 2005, and revived in summer 2008; first at the Customs House in June, then transferring to Liverpool’s Unity Theatre July 18 – 19, as part of the Liverpool Arabic Arts Festival.

RIOT was reviewed in The British Theatre Guidereview of the original production and review of the 2008 revival.

As a result of this commission, Peter Mortimer travelled to the Yemen, and wrote about it in his book, Cool for Qat.

The text of RIOT is published by Five Leaves Press, accompanied by a translation into Arabic by Abdulalem Alshamary; it can be ordered from InPress.