My Name Is Rachel Corrie
Taken from the writings of Rachel Corrie, edited by Alan Rickman and Katharine Viner
Following an award-winning sell-out run at the Royal Court, My Name is Rachel Corrie transfers to the Playhouse Theatre for a strictly limited five-week run. The play is based on the true story of Rachel Corrie, a 23-year-old American who abandoned the comforts of suburban middle class life to campaign for peace on the streets of Palestine, and was brutally killed there in March 2003 after placing herself between a bulldozer and the home of the Palestinians she was fighting to protect. Alan Rickman and Katharine Viner have adapted Corrie's own writings - her emails, diary entries and letters home - and have compiled from them a graphic portrayal of life on the streets of Palestine through the eyes of a Western woman who voluntarily placed herself in danger for the sake of the people she had come to regard almost as a second family.
The story of Rachel Corrie's life is truly breathtaking. Aged 10, she was appearing at conferences of world leaders, urging them to "stop hunger by the year 2000". When most girls her age were having gap years, Corrie was railing against how "the highest level of humanity is expressed through what we choose to buy at the mall". By the time she had turned twenty, she had decided to go to the Middle East - "I've had this underlying need to go to a place and meet people who are on the other end of the portion of my tax money that goes to fund the US and other militaries".
Perhaps the most striking feature of Corrie's story, aside from her sheer and unthinking selflessness, is her sense of the inevitability of her mission, her absolute conviction of the path her life should take. Her writing is vital, witty and expresses an emotional maturity most of us couldn't hope to acquire in a lifetime. Clearly, had she lived, her writing alone would have been a powerful tool in her mission to shake the world out of its stupor of vague pity and occasional knee-jerk charity. The play's most effective moments are those in which Corrie's own voice is heard, as when she says, aged 12, "I guess I've grown up a little. It's all relative, anyway; nine years is as long as forty, depending on how long you've lived".
They should certainly turn Corrie's writing into a book. A film of her life would be fascinating, and a fitting way in which to further the educational work in which Corrie herself believed so passionately. I am not sure, however, that they should have turned it into a play, particularly a one-woman play. Rickman is right when he says of Corrie's writing, "the images jump off the page", but they do not make the transition to the stage. Megan Dodds is captivating, engaging and entirely credible as Corrie, but although Rickman's and Viner's adaptation is exceptionally well-written, and Rickman's direction tries to inject action into what is essentially a piece of energetically-recreated memory, the play feels like an extended article in a Sunday newspaper.
Dodds is at fever-pitch for 85% of the time, which is understandable given the subject matter and the situation, but this is an energy level not really sustainable in an audience over 100 minutes. The editors understandably wish to convey as much of the factual situation as possible - to turn this into a purely emotive narrative about the death of an all-American heroine would be to sell Corrie and the people whose plight she sought to publicise to the world short. The effect, however, is a contrived narrative which feels like a cross between a Newsnight report and a history lesson. The theatre is not the place for journalism, no matter how well executed.
The writing, acting and direction of the play are all strong, and Dodds' performance in particular cannot be faulted, but Corrie's story is sold short on the stage. For the moment, this is the only way of hearing Corrie's extraordinary and inspirational story, and for that reason alone, I would recommend My Name is Rachel Corrie. However, I also very much hope that the head of a film studio or a publishing house visits the Playhouse before 6 May.
Until 6 May 2006
Philip Fisher reviewed the original production at the Royal Court