A common theme of many shows at this year’s Edinburgh Festival was the difficulties of coming to terms with human acts of outrageous violence. While Yael Farber’s Nirbhaya exposed abuse of women in India and Sean McCafferty’s Quietly confronted the deep-set hostilities still remaining in Northern Ireland, the subject matter of David Greig’s new play, The Events, is the aftermath of a shooting massacre. While clearly drawing on the 2011 Anders Breivik mass murder in Norway, Greig sets his event disturbingly closer to home: the victims are members of a church-led community choir for the vulnerable on the East coast of Scotland. The play focuses on the emotional, spiritual and ethical struggles of one survivor, Claire, the choir leader and parish priest. With a cast of only two, accompanied by a different local choir every night, the play expresses the human need to understand the reasons behind any atrocity.
However, it also shows that all too often human inflicted suffering lies beyond the realm of the comprehensible. Over the course of a continuous 90 minutes, we see this quest to understand the killer’s reasons wrack Claire, played superbly by Neve McIntosh. She reveals to the audience the full range of her character’s competing emotions: rage, confusion, frustration and guilt. Mackintosh’s performance is particularly compelling for the way it marries an almost selfish obsession together with a maintained, genuine commitment to her community and to those who died.
Greig raises many possible reasons for the killer’s homicidal desires: parental abuse, bullying, repressed sexuality, or extremist ideology. However, as Claire finds out to her frustration, whilst he may have had some experience of all of these, none were severe enough to mitigate his crime. We certainly aren’t allowed the comfortable let-out of mental illness – unless one counts “mass shooting syndrome”. Instead, we are left, together with Claire, questioning the possibility of evil.
Rudi Dharmalingam is particularly impressive in his performance as the killer, ‘the Boy’. In the long-awaited dialogue between him and Claire, he dispels ideas in the audience’s mind of evil, while still unsettling us with the disassociated communication of the outsider. In accordance with Greig’s script Dharmalingam also plays almost all other characters other than Claire. The breadth of discussion with these characters is wide but it can, perhaps because of Dharmalingam’s insufficiently differentiated characterisation, make the storyline quite difficult to follow. This is exacerbated by an almost chaotic progression of scenes. However, the fragmented narrative does successfully convey a sense of Claire’s own fractured post-traumatic mind-set.
In addition to beautiful music, the choir provide the background and continuing community against which Claire’s story is set. It is sometimes difficult to gauge which community they represent at any given moment – whether that of the dead choir members, of fellow survivors likes Claire, or the wider community, including ourselves. However, their non-professional status and local specificity not only gives the production a chilling feeling of reality, but also serve as a reminder that such atrocities can happen anywhere.
This play in its unusual non-naturalistic telling of the effects of a tragic event explores intense psychological and philosophical questions about evil, suffering and forgiveness. As a play of ideas, rather than one driven by character or plot, The Events asks searching questions: should we ever stop trying to understand that which is opposed to us, and instead just class it as evil?
After a sell-out run at Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre and a successful national tour,The Events is opening at the Young Vic Theatre on 9th October. Tickets are available from the Young Vic’s website.