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October 15, 2013 5:44 pm
They have stacked up in the memory, the mass killings, all of them horrific, but perhaps the most perplexing of all are the brutal slaughter of people engaged in beneficial acts: the Boston marathon runners, the young Norwegians at a summer camp. And always the question that haunts both the local community and the wider world afterwards: why? Can ideology or belief really explain the ability to gun down or blow up innocent strangers? Are the perpetrators mad? Are they evil?
These are the questions that compel Claire, the character at the heart of David Greig’s powerful, probing and compassionate new play (produced by the Actors Touring Company and first shown at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh this summer). A survivor of a fictitious attack, Claire is a liberal vicar who runs a community choir. But when we meet her she is reeling from the events that wrecked her life, possessed by the need to comprehend the lone gunman who strode into the community centre and gunned down her choir.
Greig and ATC director Ramin Gray don’t offer a naturalistic piece or a sensationalist drama. Instead they use the physicality and power of theatre to take you into Claire’s world and into her mind. The setting is simple: a few stackable chairs, a piano, a tea urn and a big battered teapot – the comforting, familiar backdrop of many a village hall or community centre. The choir is present as a chorus throughout; at every venue, ATC brings in different local choirs (the group on press night was The Greenwich Soul Choir), so accentuating the significance in the piece of belonging and of finding community despite differences. While they and we look on, Claire (a superb performance from Neve McIntosh) unravels.
She interviews the boy’s father and his friend, consults a psychiatrist, a politician and a journalist, all of them played here by the same actor who plays the gunman (the immensely versatile Rudi Dharmalingam). So the play pulls in a huge range of explanations for violence, and confronts some of the most pressing questions of our times: how to tackle extremism; how tolerant we should be of those who don’t brook tolerance; what impact violent images have on susceptible minds; how to live alongside one another in a shifting world; how to overcome isolation and alienation. It’s a bold, thoughtful and serious play: it touches on the darkest, most unfathomable aspects of humanity, but also, through music, the most resilient and uplifting.
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