The Events (Maria Studio, Young Vic Theatre, London) – review by Carole Woddis.

 

July 2011.  Norway.  A man with an ideology of hate goes beserk and kills 77 people.

Fast forward to October 2013.  The Young Vic’s studio theatre, the Maria.  A gaggle of very ordinary looking people shuffle onto the stage and congregate around an old upright.  A local choir.  They start singing.  Not terribly sophisticated but good enough.  At the edges of the stage loiter two additional people, looking uncomfortable.  One, female, wears a dog collar.  The other, a young man shifts his gaze constantly, won’t look directly at the choir.  At some point, the young vicar approaches the young man and asks him if he’d like to join in.

Thus begins David Greig’s latest, extraordinary play, The Events, first staged this year in Edinburgh at the Traverse during the festival.

Greig is probably one of the, if not the, most gifted playwright of his generation.  He can turn his sights on almost anything from cosmonauts to a sequel to Macbeth or the recently toured gloriously eccentric, life-enhancing Scottish ceilidh-cum-supernatural mystery The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart with equal flair and distinction.  He has a penchant for the alien, the left-field and the misunderstood.

Now he has come up with a clever, in many ways disturbing response to one of the major debates of our time.  Immigration and its affect on indigenous populations.

Here in the UK (think Ukip), there in Norway, Italy, France – wherever you look in Europe – the rise of the Far Right goes on rising.  The Events recalls the Norwegian massacre but one only has to think of Dunblane, of the EDL and any number of front page headlines from the Daily Mail or Daily Express or even the Coalition’s infamous bus campaign warning illegal immigrants to `go home or be arrested’ to realise how relevant the issue is here, now, in Britain.

Strangers, foreigners, old customs giving way to new, re-adjustments of behaviour, the embracing of difference in every aspect of all our lives – these are proving harder to integrate than anyone imagined.  And underlying it all are atavistic impulses: the sense of tribe, the cult of the strong against soft living, weakness, masculinity, urban and rural landscapes.

In a typically provoking style, Greig comes at these issues in a far from linear fashion.  He confronts racism through the mouth of one single actor, the Boy (wonderfully played by Rudi Dharmalingam) who assumes by turns the killer, the killer’s father, school friend, the vicar’s lesbian partner, Catriona, a psychologist, and others in a way that does not always make entirely clear who is speaking, perhaps intentionally.  Prejudice is many layered.  And disorientating.

Many of the frequently rehearsed right-wing arguments get rolled out as Claire, the vicar (a haunted Neve McIntosh) tries to explore the existence (or not) of evil, to restore her belief and to try to understand why a young man walked into the church hall where she was rehearsing her choir – a multicultural choir – and shot them all dead.

Unable to sleep or eat and exasperating her partner to the point of break-up eventually she is brought face to face.  Victim and perpetrator confront each other.  In the end, belief does win out.  Love conquers hate.

Commissioned by the Actors Touring Company with the Norwegian Brageteatret company, the Young Vic and the Austrian Schauspielhaus in Vienna, The Events is an urgent attempt to understand evil within a context of community.

Each week a different local choir will be part of the production.

Awkward, challenging, this is theatre that doesn’t try to confirm one’s own prejudices but rather challenge them by voicing them in the most reasonable terms.

A wonderful paradoxical and contrary lesson in humanity.

The Events is at the Young Vic Theatre to Nov 2, 2013; see www.youngvic.org

© Carole Woddis October 2013.