‘How can I hate him if I don’t understand him?’ – The Events, a review, by me, Andrew Winstanley.
The Events was written by Scottish playwright David Grieg in 2013, in direct response to the 2011 Utøya island attacks, perpetuated by Anders Behring Breivik.
Breivik was a Norwegian far right nationalist; his attacks were the single most deadly incidence of gun violence the world has ever seen (outside of war-time), and he has since been sentenced to life in maximum security prison for his actions. It is just coincidence, then, that the fabricated tragedy the play does depict – a violent attack on a multicultural church by a severely disaffected xenophobe – bears such close similarities to this year’s massacre in Charleston, South Carolina.
On one level, it’s pointless to endorse a work of art just because it engages with a problem that seems to be politically intractable in many parts of the world – that just means that the world is kinda fucked up, not necessarily that the play is any good.
The play takes the form of an extended internal dialogue – that of Claire (Tandi Wright) with, ambiguously, her inner self (Beulah Koale), taking the form of various parties involved in the tragedy during the course of the play’s run-time. Koale’s performance stands out; he has, in many ways, the meatier part, working across multiple characters in multiple states of distress, and he leaves the audience with a tangible impression of each person as he passes through, making each transition clear and distinct.
Wright, as Claire, is designed to serve as an anchor, an audience surrogate. Wright has the feel and look of “liberal, hip, young pastor” tightly under control, bringing the necessary energy and almost-corny sincerity necessary to the part. When the play tries to swap from this mode to moments of extraordinary grief and anguish, it struggles a little, working better as it picks up steam and we see more of Claire’s exhaustion and frustration.
These two actors effectively make up the entirety of the play. It wouldn’t be fair to say the Q Theatre becomes a pressure cooker environment under these conditions (to the contrary, the space almost always feels very spacious, almost spiritual), but it is certainly true that the play becomes more intense and more raw as the performance continues, and these two actors are allowed to build up an energy between them throughout the night.
The revolving panel of choirs (a different one for each performance) give the play an emotional core – they ground the text’s concerns about community and loss in something real and precious. They are potentially a wildcard element to the show from a performance standpoint – it certainly seems like there’s room for great variation of quality between performances, and there even seems to be some variation between songs.
The classical choir who took part in the performance I watched for review were stunning during their opening hymn, but seemed to struggle just minutes later when asked to sing “Norwegian coffee song”. Regardless, what’s really important about the choir isn’t their ability to deliver beautiful music, not really – this isn’t a musical, at the end of the day. They’re a symbol of the communities that are both destroyed and rebuilt by these tragedies, and there is just so much real pleasure to be found in watching groups of people who really care for each other perform and have a good time. Sentimental nonsense, but I love it.
Grieg’s work tends to be defined by this sort of thorough line of compassionate, community oriented thought. His concerns as an artist are around those of maintaining investment in the people and the world around us, keeping compassionate and keeping kind. The Events isn’t really about tragic shooting deaths, or massacres, or even really xenophobia or terrorism – rather, it is about how we maintain that positive mentality, that love of community, even when it’s under fierce attack from people who would like to rip us from the people we have chosen to surround ourselves with.