Actors Touring Company
Northern Stage, Newcastle
David Greig’s play The Events contains so much intellectual, social and political clout and has garnered so many awards that you muster any criticism with trepidation.
Yet it is a feature of theatre that, in a play which volleys highly-charged argument between its two main protagonists, one moment which remains vividly in the mind is Clifford Samuel’s The Boy delivering a chilling polemic while simultaneously skipping vigorously, then doing one-handed, one-legged press-ups, followed by other exercises, all performed while retaining firm control of his breathing. Brilliant theatre.
Another interesting theatrical device is the use of a different local choir for each performance.
On Thursday in Stage Two of Northern Stage, it was the Newcastle-based Crossing Women’s Choir (which includes one man), formed in the spirit of multiculturalism and in support of asylum seekers. Each choir gets only one day to work with the piece and, not being professional actors (as well as sing they are called to perform some lines, which are read from a script), there is a certain self-consciousness at times, though this is offset by the genuine sense of, well, clarity and purity they seem to bring to the world around them. Joe Bunker is the pianist.
We are often swirling in dark waters here. Amanda Drew is Claire, the well-meaning, left-leaning priest, social worker and choir creator who sees in this singing group a catalyst for a better society.
Enter The Boy whom Claire tries to bring into her world but who spurns such liberal sentiments. Most of we gentle lefties (which at a quick glance made up 95 per cent of the audience) abhorred his philosophies, yet, on the well-known policy of giving the Devil the best tunes, Greig invests The Boy’s speeches with a toxic power, a chilling vision often at odds with Claire’s human contradictions.
One day, The Boy’s beliefs translate themselves into a terrible act of carnage and Claire is left to make sense of what she sees.
All of this is played out on a bare set, the twelve-strong choir observing from rear benches occasionally singing numbers of different cultural significance, being used as a Greek chorus, or stepping forward to speak lines of dialogue. The play's effective soundtrack is by Irish composer John Browne.
At times, the two actors switch suddenly and briefly to play other characters (sometimes of the other sex).
This can throw us.
Amanda Drew’s sense of confused compassion is excellent while Clifford Samuel’s The Boy is seductively effective. It’s directed by Ramin Gray, obviously on a shoestring, yet it’s hard to see, short of a radical change of style, what could be added visually. In many ways this could be a radio play, not normally a compliment to a stage production.
It is, in contrast to most UK drama, cerebral theatre whose main interest is not the visual minutae of everyday life but the large issues. Not to be consumed casually.
The Actors Touring Company is joined as producer by The Young Vic Theatre and Brageteatret & Schauspielhaus Wien, strangely enough three producers for a play with a basic cast of two.
Reviewer: Peter Mortimer