Actors Touring Company with Young Vic, Brageteatret and Schauspielhaus Wien
Young Vic (The Maria)
Is it possible to understand people like Anders Breivik, who killed 77 people at a youth camp on a Norwegian island and in Oslo as a protest against multiculturalism, and people like him? How can one come to terms with the experience of terrorism?
Those are the ideas that prompt David Greig’s latest play which won awards when this production was staged at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe and now has its London première before performances in Norway and in a German translation in Vienna.
The play is not based on any actual killings but the imagined attack upon a community choir run by female vicar Claire, a choir which she describes as “a big crazy tribe” that is present on stage throughout. The actual attack is not seen, only the entrance of the Boy who perpetrates it.
“Imagine,” the Boy asks us, “a boy, an aboriginal boy” and describes him seeing the first fleet bringing its cargo of convicts to Australia along with “class and religion and disease and a multitude of other instruments of objectification and violence which are about to be unleashed upon his people”. He asks, if you could go back in time, what would you say: “Kill them. Kill them all”. It is an emotive encapsulation of the threat from incomers (and he could be a Native American, North or South, to whom the strangers brought terrible consequences).
That sounds like the beginning of an argument, a justification even, but that is not the way this play progresses. It is a montage of scenes in which Claire tries to find some understanding of the Boy and to re-find herself.
Neve McIntosh gives Claire a drive and passion that makes her traumatic destabilisation the more convincing. Sometimes she is with her choir, sometimes talking to Rudi Dharmalingam’s Boy, but often to others: her lesbian partner, her counsellor, the boy’s father—all played by Dharmalingam in the same voice with only an occasional move of position to indicate the change. This could all be in her mind, her memory and it certainly emphasises how he dominates her thoughts.
When the Boy is preparing for his violent gesture, to be a Viking going berserk, Dharmalingam can fizz energy too but mainly he is subdued and calmly understated, though as Claire’s partner Catriona things get rough.
This is no simple narrative and neither writing nor Ramin Gray’s direction make it easy for the audience to know where and who they are, with but that itself reflects the struggle that Claire is having. The kaleidoscopic structure has a theatrical effectiveness and the complex playing of the concentrated duologue by just two actors grips the audience for some eighty-odd minutes without a break.
The choir is sometimes directly involved in the action, sometimes simply ranged in the background or providing musical support to a situation, at one point could be themselves or possibly voices for a series of unknown assassins. They can be both a ghostly reminder and a down to earth reality to set against Claire’s wilder experiments to rediscover her faith and feeling.
At each performance, a different choir will join the two professional actors. I saw and heard the Greenwich Soul Choir with Jessie Maryon Davies at the piano, but nearly 20 London choirs will be involved during the London run.
Reviewer: Howard Loxton