The new Everyman opened last month with a classic Shakespearean comedy (Twelfth Night), and now by contrast it presents us with something very different: a play that’s contemporary, controversial and decidedly dark.
David Greig’s The Events was first performed at last summer’s Edinburgh Festival. It’s since toured the country to great acclaim, and the New York Times has called it ‘The best new play to yet play New York’. Its subject is the aftermath of a mass shooting: a young man interrupts a village choir practice and shoots many of the singers dead, leaving Claire – the local priest who leads the choir, and a survivor of the attack – desperate to understand why he did it.
The play has a British setting, but in places there are clear echoes of the killings a few years ago at a Norwegian summer camp. It’s obviously a risky theme to tackle, one that could lay the playwright open to accusations of tasteless sensationalism. But Greig offers a restrained, meditative piece that grapples in a commendably thought-provoking way with the question of how individuals and communities can possibly come to terms with such horrific and incomprehensible acts.
Claire is played by Amanda Drew, a superb actress who’s familiar to Liverpool audiences from such roles as Blanche Dubois in the Playhouse’s 2012 production of A Streetcar Named Desire. In The Events she beautifully captures Claire’s alternating feelings of grief, compassion, anger and bewilderment. There’s another excellent performance from Clifford Samuel as the gunman (known simply as ‘the Boy’), whose hostility towards multiculturalism may be the main reason for the attack. However ‘may’ is the operative word here, as other explanations (a troubled childhood, repressed homosexuality, a determination to make his mark on the world) are offered. Samuel’s multiplicity of roles – which include playing the Boy’s father, his only school friend and a right-wing politician – is similarly a device which implies the reasons for the crime are varied, complex and perhaps unknowable. He has most of the play’s funniest lines – the humour which regularly offsets the bleakness of much of the play is a definite strength – and delivers them with considerable aplomb.
The cast is completed in unforgettable fashion by a genuine choir – a different one every night, but always from the community in which the play is being performed. In this instance it was Liverpool’s Up For Arts community choir, which performed recently at the Everyman’s re-opening. Their songs have a transcendent effect, and when Claire asks them to hum rather than sing the lines of a hymn, it reinforces the sense that some aspects of humanity are beyond words. By the end of the play the singing has become healing and therapeutic, convincing us that even after the most terrible of tragedies there can still be hope.
The Events is clearly a major new dramatic work, and it’s heartening to see a play such as this performed at the new Everyman.
Photos by David Levine.
The Events continues at the Liverpool Everyman until Saturday 12 April. For more information click HERE.