Sep 5, 2015 Theatre
The Events by David Greig
One day after we all stared in horror at the body of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi lying on the beach in Turkey, Silo Theatre opened its new production, The Events. In that photo, it was the boy’s cheek, the way it was ploughed into the sand. The crook of the elbow and the upturned hand, the helplessness and the lifelessness of the gesture.
And in the theatre, a young man turns up at a choir practice, won’t answer questions, has nothing to say and, it seems, nothing he wants to do. Until he does. This is a play about a mass killing, an act of racist extremism perpetrated by a young man, known only as The Boy, who explains that he doesn’t hate foreigners, he just hates them “over here”. And about the priest, Claire, who ran the choir and was not killed and now must endure.
Just two actors, a musical director at the piano and a guest choir, new each night, rehearsed in the songs but, like us, not knowing how the story will unfold. The choir is us: they sing, they move about, they wait for what we all know is coming, and in the end, just when you think the play might be going to spare you, they deliver us the most enormous emotional wallop.
Claire is a priest with a shaken faith, but her torment is temporal: she believes desperately that she needs to understand the boy. It is not God who has forsaken her so much as her belief in human goodness. So she wants to know if the boy mad or evil, because both explanations offer relief. But that’s not it. This is a deeply humanist work: its subject is the good and evil inside all of us; its purpose to discover how we can balance the reason and the rage.
Tandi Wright plays Claire with a desperate frailty: she’s humanity, stripped to the bone. Beulah Koale plays The Boy with a mind like a half-cocked trigger, a body seething with dangerous intent, and he also presents a range of other roles (her therapist, her partner, politician, etc). Koale is humanity too, of course. Where she’s our conduit to understanding, to a way to exercise judgment, he’s what we are, or might be, and know we cannot be.
The pair of them are riveting from start to finish, working deeply off each other, leaping from argument to trauma and violence, through hope and anguish, flooding the stage with their story. Director Sophie Roberts showed us with her first Silo production, The Book of Everything in March, that she knows how to turn theatre into a major occasion, and she’s just done it again. Great work.
The boy on the beach; the mass shooting of the innocents – in South Carolina, in Norway, in Hebron, in whichever place it will happen next. They’re not the same thing and yet they are. They’re the same because the ability to say “us” and “them” lets us turn our back on refugees and it’s the same ability that allows an angry young man to believe he is permitted to kill innocent people. They’re also the same because knowing how to prevent these things happening again is beyond us.
The Events marches straight up to that dilemma and asserts our humanity. It is all we can do, and it is what we always must do: hold onto our decency, stand with the afflicted, define “we” as all of us.
Don’t miss this play. I’ve said that before but I’ve never meant it more. The Events plugs you into the heart of the world. It’s traumatic, for sure – by the end I was a complete mess. It is also magnificent.
The Events runs until September 26. qtheatre.co.nz