Actors Touring Company
Home Manchester at Number One First Street
When this play by David Greig appeared in 2013, it was linked in the press closely with the mass killings in Norway by Anders Breivik, but it isn't based on any specific event and has more to offer than a straight retelling of a real story ever could.
This isn't, by any means, a straightforward narrative, but the gist is that Claire, a lesbian priest who runs a multicultural choir, survived the event of the title in which a young man, only named as "The Boy", came in with a gun and shot as many people as he could before running out of ammunition.
At the beginning, The Boy imagines the first Aboriginal boy to see a convict ship arriving on the Australian shores and asks what advice we should give him if we could go back there. His answer? "Kill them. Kill them all." It's a dangerous idea that cannot be lightly dismissed.
Greig's fractured narrative shows us the lead-up to the massacre and Claire's attempts to deal with it afterwards, interviewing The Boy's father, friend, a journalist and a politician from the party that influenced his anti-multiculturist views, preaching about a world in which everyone stays with his or her own "tribe". There has been a rise of such talk in British politics since this play was first staged.
Claire speaks to her therapist, takes her frustrations out on her partner Catriona and brings in a "shaman" to help the choir survivors to deal with their memories (the choir would rather forget about it and sing pop songs).
Finally, Claire is given a showdown with the boy himself, who is quite an affable young man, but she only has one question for him: "why?". He wants to be open and honest with her, but his answers don't give any kind of satisfaction. Claire leaves him with an alternative ending to his Aboriginal boy story.
All of this is played by just two actors, Derbhle Crotty as Claire and Clifford Samuel as The Boy and almost every other character in the story, male and female. There is also a choir on stage throughout; in a touch that reminded me of the work of Tim Crouch, it is a different choir every performance—I saw the Manchester Lesbian and Gay Chorus—who sing rehearsed songs and also speak lines, collectively or individually, that they have clearly only just been given.
All of this is played with a mix of contrasting performance styles which, in the best Brechtian tradition, keeps the audience focussed on the complex issues and discussions of the play rather than the emotions of the characters. And these issues are spelled out very cleverly, so that even those with views that we wouldn't be expected to share argue them in a way that forces you to reassess your arguments against them.
In Home's temporary performance space at First Street, the basic staging of Ramin Gray's production works perfectly, with finely detailed direction and a couple of very impressive performances.
It's compelling, troubling theatre that will keep you thinking long after it ends.
Reviewer: David Chadderton