Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Theatre review: The Events

David Greig's The Events features just two actors but the stage of the Maria is pretty full as the play calls for a choir - Ramin Gray's production brings in a different community choir every night, tonight the Morris Folk Choir from Islington. They provide, of course, a musical backing as well as reading in additional lines on occasion but their presence takes on a greater significance as the story unfolds. Claire (Neve McIntosh) is a lesbian vicar running a multicultural choir, and as such might as well be the poster girl for everything the far right hates - indeed an extremist party once listed the choir as one of the things that's wrong with Britain on its website. But for The Boy (Rudi Dharmalingam) hating them from afar wasn't enough, and it quickly becomes apparent that Claire is the survivor of his act of violence.

The play is really Claire's attempt to understand, or if not at least to learn how to live with what The Boy did, and her place in his story. Dharmalingam voices the clues to his actions that The Boy left behind on his website, but also takes on all the characters trying to help Claire get on with her life.

At a couple of points in its middle section The Events drags a bit, the story feeling as if it's circling a conclusion before ramping up again, but that's pretty much all I have to say against it. A slightly confusing opening just makes it more satisfying when the structure starts to fall into place, and Greig begins to explore what it's like to deal with grief when it's tied in with such incomprehension.

What gives Gray's production its power is largely its restraint. On a minimalist set from Chloe Lamford evoking a village hall, McIntosh is understated in her grief and confusion, rarely erupting at those around her so that she seems a woman almost in a trance, giving her increasingly desperate actions a kind of inevitability. And where playing multiple characters, occasionally with the intention of lightening the tone, might have been a temptation to show off, Dharmalingam holds back and subtly distinguishes between the parts he's playing - which has the added effect of emphasising the play's conclusion that the distinction between "normal" people and those who could commit atrocities is almost impossible to see.

The presence of the choir, singing a mix of sea shanties, hymns and new compositions by John Browne, allows the actors to hold back like this by emotionally underscoring the action, with an added poignancy lent by the way a choir features in the story and their interactions with it. Greig's play is restrained and moving, not making light of tragedy but emphasising the importance of moving on.

The Events by David Greig is booking until the 2nd of November at the Young Vic's Maria; then continuing on tour to Hull, Bristol, Birmingham and Plymouth.

Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes straight through.

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