Wednesday, March 2, 2016

THE EVENTS Adelaide Festival of Arts 2016

The Events by David Greig

Directed by Clare Watson. A State Theatre of South Australia, Belvoir Street Theatre and The Malthouse Theatre co-production. Her Majesty’s Theatre. Adelaide Festival of Arts 2016. February 25 - March 5

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Catherine McClements as Claire in The Events. Photo by Shane Reid

 In 2011, Norwegian Anders Breivik planted a bomb outside the Norwegian parliament, and then, dressed as a police officer, took a ferry to the idyllic island of Otoya where he cold-bloodedly shot dead 69 young people in an anti-immigration act of extreme terrorism.  Playwright David Greig has drawn on this event and other mass shootings to inspire his play The Events. Claire (Catherine McClements) is the survivor of a mass shooting at her community church where she conducts the church choir. The perpetrator and antagonist of the drama is a young boy, played by Johnny Carr. Carr also takes on the other roles including the psychologist, the leader of a white supremacist party, the policeman, the journalist, whose book has inspired the boy to pursue Sharman ritual and Claire’s partner, Katrina.

Claire’s desperate quest is a need to fathom the unfathomable; to make sense out of a senseless act and to discover why the boy would perpetrate such a terrible crime. Greig offers no single answer. Motive is a complex web of circumstance and opportunity and any attempt to define categorically the cause of such atrocity is shrouded in indefinable probability. When she confronts the boy at the close of the play, and asks “Why?” the boys responds “Honestly?”. Is it his relationship with his mother or his father? Is it the bullying suffered at school? Is it his need to protect white women from foreigners? Is it his mission to preserve the purity of his tribe? Or is it his obsession with a violent Viking myth? What choice did he have but to acquire a gun and exact this terrible event? “Why?” Catherine persists. “Because I was angry.” Angry? At what? At whom? The definable motive remains elusive, leaving an audience to consider, to judge and possibly to draw their own conclusions.

Director Claire Watson and actors McClements and Carr bear a weighty burden of responsibility. Greig’s play presents a series of short scenes with little scope for character development, especially in the case of Carr, who must swiftly capture the essence of an array of characters. His characters become a vehicle for judgement and it is to Carr’s credit that he swiftly and effectively imbues his characters with the essence of his text. He presents the essential nature of Katrina and we instantly believe her existence upon the stage. As the protagonist, Claire, McClements’ journey is more fleshed out. We sense her confusion, her guilt, and her need for a rational and believable explanation. “Events test us” her friend tells her, and the audience shares Claire’s test of faith, love and forgiveness. Her performance is natural, truthful and believable, distanced in time from the horrific experience of the shooting and able to reflect on events and consider their consequence.

Catherine McClements as Claire and The Choir.
Photo by Shane Reid
The Events bears the mark of Bertolt Brecht’s Epic Theatre.  The fourth wall is consciously broken by Claire from the very beginning when she invites people to join her choir and we are presented with opposing notions. As his rampage comes to an end, the boy offers the cowering Claire and Mrs. Singh, a member of her choir, a choice. He has only one bullet remaining in his gun, “Who is offering to die?” At the end of the play, Claire has the same choice, to poison the boy’s tea or let him live.  If we were in that situation, what choice would we make, and why?

Pivotal to the play is the existence of a choir. Each night a different Adelaide choir joins the production to sing songs, composed by John Browne and under the musical direction of Carol Young. Seated on raked seating at the rear of the stage, as if in an amphitheatre, the choir acts as a chorus, performing the role of commentators in song on the action. At times they ask questions in a Frequently Asked segment of a television show or inform Claire that they need to move on from the events of the past.

As they sing the final song, We’re All in Here, Claire and the audience come to the realization that we all share in the boy’s act as a part of a society that has created the events that tear apart the lives of the innocent and the guilty alike. At the beginning of his play, Greig quotes “This darkness I acknowledge”. His play raises a complex question that Claire must grapple with at the end of the play, “Do I have the right to exercise the darkness within and exact revenge? The choir responds with We’re all in here.
Catherine McClements as Claire. Johnny Carr as Katrina
and The Choir. Photo by Shane reid
The Events is intentionally thought-provoking. The performance is followed by a Q and A, intended to expand on the complex issues raised in the production. Still the questions remain. Will Claire ever be free of the horror that haunts her days? What is the collective responsibility of society, or the individual’s power to act.? Are gun laws the answer to these horrible crimes? One audience member was moved to tears. I was provoked to thought. That is the power of Greig’s play, the success of this production and the frustration that ultimately remains.