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Theatre of Scotland

The Events- Actors Touring Company & Co-Producers , The Studio, Birmingham Repertory Theatre , November 20, 2013
Theatre of Scotland by The Events- Actors Touring Company & Co-Producers “The Events” is big theatre. It is big theatre accomplished in director Ramin Gray’s production with the most economical of means. David Greig’s script requires two actors and a pianist. The stage is an empty space backed by two rows of seats. The props are a dozen movable seats, an urn and a few teacups. It gives its audience what has motivated them to step out on a cold winter’s night, actors in demanding, physical roles who do not leave the stage during the play’s eighty-five minute duration. “The Events” is big theatre on four counts; it is bold and ambitious in its subject, it is innovative in its form, crafted in its narrative arc, and complex and subtle in its treatment.

Neve McIntosh plays Claire; thirtyish, in a stable relationship with partner Katrin, and in holy orders. David Greig does not specify her particular denomination. Claire’s wracked pursuit of understanding is that of a rational soul seeking explication in language and concept. Christian theology appears a small part of her make-up, underpinning a generalised philanthropy. “Nothing is easy about faith” she says “Events test us.” The true depth of her conviction is only cleverly and movingly revealed at the close.

Claire is the church in action. She has been the lead in the formation of a choir, its ecumenical, open-armed, multicultural membership the target of an atrocity modelled on Dunblane and Utoya. Rudi Dharmalingam gets to play every other part- a writer and school contemporary, a populist party leader, partner Katrin, the perpetrator himself, as well as his father.

The character of the unnamed perpetrator is gradually drawn out, the deprived childhood, the perpetual insomnia, the difficult schooldays, the Call-of-Duty obsession, the fantasies of tribal allegiance, the stone-age diet, the fascination with militaria, the imitation of Viking intoxication through fly agaric mushroom mixed in reindeer urine.

Claire has survived but only in a context so close to death that she has felt the squeezing out of her soul. The woman that lives on is a restless, haunted, sleepless figure. One by one the verbal explanations that she encounters fail and falter. She dismisses notions of impairment of empathy. She trashes a psychological elaboration that is circular, a descriptor of personality that is only defined by the action that the personality has carried out.

An array of spurious explanations is loaded onto the perpetrator, from product of capitalism to simply “lost in the blasted waste of modern life.” The heart of “the Events” is in the drive, which is hollowing Claire out, “to turn dark things into light.” “What if bad things just happen?” protests her despairing partner.

“The Events” could well be presented as a high-velocity two-hander. But it incorporates an element of theatrical daring. Each performance is augmented by a local choir, led by pianist Jessie Maryon Davies. The choir of thirteen for the first night in Birmingham comes from the nearby Ormiston Academy. The music and singing adds huge texture to the production. When not singing or adding the occasional line the choir is seated throughout facing the audience.

At one point a choir member steps forward centre-stage to deliver a small speech about chimpanzee groups and their resolutions of hostility. The teenager who has volunteered deserves salute as a theatre hero for 2013. The bold nature of the collaboration has meant that the choir has rehearsed but not seen the full play. This has a downside in a scene of shamanistic ritual led by Rudi Dharmalingam in another role as “Dave from Dudley”. It has an unpractised awkwardness to it, but that may well be its point.

“The Events” moves towards an ending that has a parallel to the one that Bryony Lavery fashioned for “Frozen.” It fits with Claire’s musings about taking on a chaplaincy at Scotland’s tough-as-nails Peterhead prison. As it happens “Frozen”, originated in Birmingham, comes up for a revival in February 2014. “The Events” stands alongside in equal stature. The two are complementary in that both deal with seekers into atrocity, the one single but serial, the other large-scale and public.

“The Events” is a co-production from the Actors Touring Company, the Young Vic, Norway’s Brageteatret and Vienna’s Schauspielhaus. The creative team includes Oda Radoor and Brigitte Auer as dramaturgs. The British tour ends next week in Plymouth and “the Events” will play in Europe in 2014. David Greig is a writer of uniqueness, but he has also emerged and flourished within a specific theatre environment. Scotland benefits from a climate of toughly ambitious dramaturgy and a specific theatre, in the form of the Traverse, driven by an undeviating commitment to new drama.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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