“The Events” by David Greig

at the Traverse Theatre, Sunday 4th August 2013

*Originally reviewed for A Younger Theatre*

Let’s get this straight: David Greig’s The Events is not ‘about’ the Norwegian massacre committed by Anders Breivik. It uses them as a source of inspiration and attempts to interrogate many of the questions surrounding it but never actively refers to its details, instead preferring to fictionalise an ‘event’ of its own so we may try to understand what happens to communities when these kind of atrocities occur. It’s a lyrical, knotty play which, through trying to comprehend, suggests that comprehension is impossible.

The director of the show, Ramin Gray, suggests in the programme note that “Every act of theatre revolves around a transaction between two communities: the performers onstage and the improvised community that constitute what we call an audience”. This is the central motif of The Events, which places a local community choir on a tiered platform at the back of the stage, acting as a mirror of us. Their choirmaster is the fictional Claire, who survived a recent massacre at the hands of an extremist self-professed ‘Tribal Warrior’ (named ‘The Boy’) and is now in the process of trying to understand the reasons he did it. She speaks to his father, his ‘friend’, his party leader and, eventually, him. Yet each time, rather than piecing the story together, it becomes all the more difficult to understand that fundamental question: Why?

It’s no surprise that Chloe Lamford’s stark but warm community hall design has echoes of the opening of London Road, complete with tea urn and cups. Both pieces are about communities coming together in the face of tragedy, not to hate or to blame but to buoy each other up and look forward. And both feature music as a form of healing, as individuals come together to sing as one in the face of adversity (which is an interesting point to be making when Fight Night is happening just down the stairs in Traverse 2).

Throughout, the choir also contribute to the debate between Neve McKintosh’s Claire and the many roles played by Rudi Dharmalingham (including The Boy). They chip in with questions asked to The Boy so we may get a better understanding of who he is, and then reverse this later by labelling what he is in turn. Their most interesting intervention, however, comes when a choir member reads out a piece about the difference between chimps and bonobos, The former are ruled by the male members of the group and in turn practise “rape and infanticide”. The latter are ruled by females and instead of fighting just “have sex”. Humans share 98% of our DNA with each. Grieg asks us to consider which we’d like to relate ourselves to the most and offers up both sides for consideration.

Though Dharmalingham plays a range of roles, including Claire’s girlfriend, he never succumbs to ‘acting’ and instead just speaks the lines with clarity and conviction, allowing us to consider the ideas without being swayed by his emotion. It also allows McKintosh to regain our empathy even though her quest is futile. She flits between believing she has control (or at least more than The Boy) and seeing that she has none whatsoever, especially in the face of societal pressure.

The Events is a quietly provocative piece of political theatre which demonstrates the need for coming together in times of crises. By placing two people between two communities – on and off-stage – Greig manages to find a theatrical way of representing the push and pull which is thrown up when the world is forced to debate these questions. Though we may never be able to understand why, we can at least try to examine how.

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