My Name Is Rachel Corrie

Taken from the writings of Rachel Corrie, edited by Alan Rickman and Katharine Viner
Baron's Court Theatre
(2009)

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This moving piece of verbatim theatre premiered to great success at the Royal Court in 2005. I imagine that experience contrasts wildly with seeing the play done with minimal set in the tiny, creaky cellar that is the Baron's Court Theatre, but its power can hardly be lessened.

Rachel Corrie was an American activist who was killed by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza in 2003, while aiding the non-violent protests of Palestinian civilians whose homes were threatened with destruction. Faced with this string of facts alone, Viner and Rickman might have been tempted to create a bullet-ridden war drama in which Rachel was the mere representative totem in a political rant. Instead they decided to construct the play from years' worth of her own journal writings from the age of twelve - and so convince us that her thoughts, her musings, her twelve-year-old ambitions, are not asides from the main action but are the story. It makes for a human drama of great subtlety and depth, and a political message no less stealthily effective.

Rachel emerges as a true flesh-and-blood individual: an activist from her teens, but also an aspiring writer, a dreamer and self-interrogator. She writes frankly about her "nomadic spirit", her feeling of not quite belonging, and the "phobia of community" which she had to get over in order to dig into her campaigning. She channelled her frustration with American society into determination to help those whom she felt suffered most from US foreign policy: "maybe alone-ness is what helps you to not be scared of telling the truth".

The play shows great respect for her, in trusting that her words alone will be enough to rivet an audience. But it does depend on the actress: here, Sara Farah, while a spirited performer, does not convey enough of the idiosyncratic quality of this woman whose 5th-grade career ambitions included wandering poet, first woman president and Spiderman, and who dreamed of an afterlife hanging with Zelda Fitzgerald and Charlie Chaplin. Farah conveys the surface emotion of each particular moment in the text, but not an overall, wider tapestry of the genuine personality of a woman part of whose tragedy is that she will now forever be defined by her death. Instead we get a bouncy, chatty, energetic young woman who has something youthfully all-American about her. Though this of course has its own power. It's possible to see Rachel as a symbol of the destruction of American optimism and belief in the power of one person to change things. In this respect Holly Wilson's production hits home.

Corrie was part of the International Solidarity Movement, in which largely western activists acted as human shields protecting Palestinians in Gaza: retrieving bodies from under the noses of tanks; staying overnight in civilian homes to prevent the bulldozers moving in. The illusion of the untouchability of the white westerner though was quickly stripped away. As Rachel begins to feel more vulnerable, she writes movingly about living in a situation largely uncovered by the world's press: "how do you survive in a non-existent place?". Ironically of course her death swung the world's cameras firmly back onto Gaza. As heart-gripping drama, this play is a precision weapon; and vital.

Until 28th February

Reviewer: Corinne Salisbury