Like so many theatre goers I‘m used to seeing a long run of poor to middling productions, and then along comes a performance that reminds me of why I’ve been a life-long devotee of the theatre. David Greig’s The Events is one such reminder. The two-hour wait last Thursday evening (31st October) at The Cut (Young Vic, London) for a returns ticket for this sold-out show was more than worth it; I’d urge anyone who hasn’t seenThe Events yet to get along to a performance while it tours.
The events Greig has in mind are those of the earth-shattering, bewildering and traumatic kind: events that turn lives and communities upside down and inside out. Although Greig and his collaborators had first-hand insight into the aftermath of 22 July 2011 – the shootings by Anders Breivik that resulted in 77 fatalities in Norway – The Events manages both to localise and internationalise these incomprehensible atrocities. As director Ramin Gray’s notes on the production state ‘sadly since then [shootings in Norway] both the Boston bombing and the events in Woolwich have kept the material resonating’.
Setting the ‘events’ in an unspecified place the play makes resonant the idea of ordinary, small communities at risk anywhere and everywhere. Claire, a lesbian priest (Neve McIntosh), is trying to make sense of what has happened in her village: ‘nothing is left but darkness’ after a gunman went on a killing spree, randomly murdering members of her church choir. Opposite her is ‘the boy’, performed by Rudi Dharmalingam who has the challenging task of playing the killer and all of the other characters who come into view as Claire tries to make sense of and come to terms with what happened. A third ‘character’ is the choir: a communal, choral body set at the back of the stage and facing the audience. Like an ancient Greek chorus they bear witness to the telling and re-telling of tragic, non-sense-making events. Moreover, this is not a professional choir touring with the production: local choirs are found to participate in different performances heightening the sense of a community that is ‘unrehearsed’ or unprepared for the events to be witnessed.
From beginning to end, I was deeply moved by the struggle that Claire embodies to understand and to start living and singing again. And as I watched I began to feel or to understand something else: of how we might need to go deeper and darker through unfathomable imaginings if we are ever to begin to imagine the world in more hopeful ways as theatre is regularly called upon to do. And as dark as that thought might be, it makes theatre with its capacity for communitising all the more necessary as we seek to come to terms with the unimaginable events of our contemporary world.