Dublin Theatre Festival: The Events

Neve McIntosh and Rudi Dharmalingam in 'The Events' by David Greig at Dublin Theatre Festival

Neve McIntosh and Rudi Dharmalingam in 'The Events' by David Greig at Dublin Theatre Festival

‘What if bad things just happen?’  This is one resigning deliberation offered to Claire (McIntosh) by her partner Caitriona a year on from the massacre that saw a gunman claim the lives of members of her community choir.  Claire hasn’t slept; she’s started collapsing during rehearsals (of no apparent surprise to the singers who take this as their cue to break for tea), and she’s been found late at night treading dangerously close to the edge of a cliff.  It is no surprise that Caitriona, in a bid to free her from the manacles of her unshakable memory, also suggests that trying to understand what happened and why is masochism.  Caitriona wants to leave her, her choir wants to leave her; the only thing that doesn’t seem to want to leave Claire is what happened that day.

A burnt-orange curtain rises slowly from the floor of the stage to form the backdrop to the choir as they open with the mesmeric tune of ‘Shine Alleluia’.  With the house lights still aglow on the audience, we our beckoned by the choir’s conductor to join in the chorus, and we do, for the feeling of togetherness and joyousness is abound under the shared light, and the choir really are very good.  One feels compelled to ignore the young man standing stage right fixed firm in his stance, staring straight ahead with clenched fists who looks like he is about to do something dreadful, like pull a gun.  The music continues, the audience waits for their cue, the singers smile and the anticipation of something awful about to happen becomes so unbearable that some of us stop singing. 

When the final cadence concludes the song, the anticipated atrocity doesn’t happen (because it already has) and ‘The boy’ (Dharmalingam) is welcomed into the group with a cheerful rendition of a Norwegian ‘coffee song’ accompanied by some syncopated hip slapping by Claire and the other singers.  He is clearly a misfit, but everyone, she assures him, ‘is welcome here.’ 

David Greig challenges the authenticity of this hypothesis in a most subtle, quiet and discerning manner.  He chisels ruthlessly into the darkest chasms of the human condition and poses questions of an existing inherent racism in everyone, of a propensity for violence and torture, of prejudice, evil and martyrdom, and of cultural and religious tribalism that is inexorable in all parts of the modern world.  And he actually manages to do this with wit and compassion.  Claire’s improvised interaction with the choir (a constant presence on stage throughout) allows for some welcomed humour and an interesting variation of the stage tableau as she instructs them to form a circle and allow their sub-conscious selves to speak and move to the beat of some self-formed rhythm and lyrics.  She goes a step too far, however, when, in her state of fervour, she insists they hastily form a ‘symbolic portal.’  Before she has time to notice the expressions of dubiousness among them, she has passed out in a slump on the floor.

In a play that derives from the inhumane events that took place in Norway in 2011 at the hands of Anders Breivik, it naturally probes at the one regrettable commonality that exists between us, Breivik, and all other perpetrators of such abhorrent crimes: they too are human.  As Claire slowly disconnects herself from those around her, including her girlfriend, and becomes more and more obsessed with the life, interests and intentions of the gunman held in Peterhead Prison, she holds tight to one last thread of hope in her quest to understand:  ‘He is human,’ she tells Caitriona.  ‘Once he is human, I can connect.’ 
Rudi Dharmalingam plays his multiple characters (from Claire’s girlfriend, to her psychiatrist, to the killer himself, and the killer’s friend) with carefully weighed variance, while Claire’s slowly encroaching psychosis is performed with appropriate mildness.   The choir, which changes each night and is locally sourced, brings a sense of instantaneous real time to each performance and the kind of subtle eccentricity that is only achievable in theatre by having different groups of non-actors occupying most of the stage each night.  Made up of ordinary individuals, both young and old, they encompass a much more complex role than merely providing an emotionally charged soundtrack; they are the medium to express through music that which cannot be expressed through words, and under the steadfast direction of Ramin Grey, they never put a foot wrong.

This play is about the struggle to comprehend the things that are utterly incomprehensible, and how sometimes, the more we try to connect to the root of something, the more disconnected from it we can become.  Greig demonstrates this premise in the final scene of the play when Claire finally comes face to face with the perpetrator:  ‘I was angry and I had a gun,’ he tells her simply.  As she knocks a poisonous cup of tea from his hands right before it reaches his lips, their madness, in different ways, seems strangely parallel. 

Star rating: ★★★★

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Dublin Theatre Festival: The Events by David Greig

01-05 October 2013

Produced by Actors Theatre Company
In Abbey Theatre, The Paecock Stage

Written by David Greig

Directed by Ramin Gray

Composer John Browne

Designer Chloe Lamford

Lighting Charles Balfour

Sound Alex Caplen

Cast: Rudi Dharmalingam and Neve McIntosh