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The Events – The Studio, Birmingham REP

Writer: David Greig

Director: Ramin Gray

Reviewer: James Garrington

[rating:2]

The Events Birmingham REP Steve CummiskeyOn 22nd July 2011, Anders Breivik bombed government buildings in Oslo, killing eight people. He then went on to carry out a mass shooting at a camp of young people, killing another 69. The Events is a response to that time. It tells the story of Claire, a gay female priest, who has herself been on the receiving end of an atrocity.

As David Greig’s play opens we find ourselves in a hall, almost devoid of furnishing. Only a few chairs and a piano, plus an inevitable tea urn, serve to decorate the room and give us an indication of where we might be. A choir enter and gather round the piano. In the corner, minding his own business, waits a man. This is a typical scene that you might find in church halls anywhere around the country. That is, until some far from usual events start to unfold.

Neve McIntosh plays Claire, a woman trying to make sense of the events that have taken place and of which she has unwillingly been a part. She neatly shows her confusion, going through a range of emotions as she goes mad. She takes the audience through scenes and events, alternately calm and frantic, challenging and introspective, drawing on depths of emotion that are clear to see; and in the close confines of the Studio theatre, her intensity comes across well. All of the other parts are played by Rudi Dharmalingam. He is the perpetrator, he is a therapist, he is ‘Dave from Dudley’, he is Claire’s (female) lover. He is at times calm and considered, and at others almost manic in his physicality. He moves quite neatly from one character to another, but there is nothing to differentiate between the different characters, making the piece quite hard work for the audience. At times he seems to switch characters almost mid-sentence, which would be a great achievement were it not for the fact that all of his characters are basically played the same. Nonetheless, he also displays some memorable moments in his performance. It is the quality of the acting from the two that is the main redeeming feature of the whole production.

The third side of the triangle is provided by the choir, and there is a different one every performance. At this performance it was a choir of voice students from BOA, the Birmingham Ormiston Academy, who were disappointing for a group of aspiring performing arts professionals. Some of them seemed bemused, and alternately amused, by what they were doing; though if, from time to time, one or two of them looked as though they were not quite sure what was going on, I suspect that they were not alone and some of the audience shared their confusion.

There is no doubt that in a piece of this intensity, both of the actors involved must invest a lot of emotion and energy into their performances, and this they undoubtedly do. The difficulty lies not with the performances, but rather with the play itself. It does not provide an easy ride for the audience, and involves almost as much energy to watch it as the actors use in performing it. It is a play full of contrasts. The premise of having a gay female priest and references to a multicultural, multi-ethnic choir gives enough diversity to provide a clear undercurrent of xenophobia, with relevant references in the script from time to time; but on the other hand, less clear is why there is one actor playing many parts. Is this intended to reflect the idea that Claire sees his face everywhere? It is hard to be sure. It is a very wordy piece, full of philosophical points which at times bombard the audience almost too quickly for them to take in, as the play jumps without warning between past and present, fact and imagination.

In the end it will probably divide opinion and spark some discussion. Is it a brilliant, cutting edge piece of drama, or a confusing stream of ideas? The piece was very well received in Edinburgh when it was first launched, and the empty box of the Studio at the REP is a very suitable location for it, if it is to be anywhere: but this wouldn’t be the first play that has lost some of its charm once it has headed south from the Fringe. Greig is, without doubt, a very clever playwright, but this piece may just fall into the category of “too clever for its own good”.

Runs until 23rd November 2013

Picture: Steve Cummiskey

 

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