Alan Dilworth's production of David Greig's play inspired by the 2011 Norway attacks is both compelling and muddy
A meditation on trauma, guilt, forgiveness and the vagaries of conviction, Scottish playwright David Greig’s The Events appropriates some of the particularities of the 2011 Norway attacks – in which 77 people were killed by anti-immigrant terrorist Anders Breivik – and transposes them to a church somewhere in the UK.
Written for two actors and a choir, The Events challenges its audience to examine fraught emotions and challenges its interpreters to parse a text that is at once stark and intimidatingly dense. Necessary Angel’s current production, helmed by artistic director Alan Dilworth, is frequently transfixing, yet struggles to apprehend the ultra-taut dynamics the script demands.
The opening sequence is chilling: a choir – a real amateur choir, not a choir of actors or professional singers – enters informally and takes their places on bleachers. They’re followed by Claire (Raven Dauda), a priest and choirmaster, and sing a wobbly Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.
Enter a stranger (Kevin Walker) with greasy hair, a scruffy beard and small, hard eyes. When he speaks, he asks listeners to imagine an Aborigine confronted with the arrival of Europeans, his way of imposing his own deep-seated xenophobia onto a people as far from his racial or cultural profile as can be imagined.
What follows wisely elides any depiction of the massacre this stranger is about to enact – a massacre that only Claire survives. Instead, The Events takes us through a weave of brief scenes, with Walker alternating between numerous roles, from Claire’s partner to the killer’s father, involving Claire in a series of purgatorial dialogues in which she wrestles with PTSD, the desire for retribution, the limits of compassion and her faith.
The production is both compelling and muddy. Though Kimberly Purtell’s lighting and Deanna H. Choi’s sound design offer solid support, the transitions between scenes feel soft and occasionally baffling, with little in the staging or Walker’s performance to demarcate one character or one point in time from another.
Sitting with ambiguity is an essential part of this play’s central moral provocation, but having Walker embody each character more distinctly would have heightened our sense of the way Claire’s journey is shaped by those she encounters.
The choir, meanwhile, are tasked with speaking pivotal bits of dialogue, though their individual members’ skill with projection or enunciation vary considerably. I know we are meant to be moved by the fact of their ordinariness – they are, after all, the victims – but I couldn’t help but think that in this play brimming with intrigue and artifice, there could be more effective ways of using these non-actors to support what is already a highly demanding text. And when the choir shifts from singing spirituals or pop songs to singing material written explicitly for the play, could their mode of singing, their posture, gaze or tone, not also transform in a manner that reflects their movement from inhabiting a scene to providing it with underscoring or commentary?
Make no mistake, my respect for The Events and for Necessary Angel’s willingness to program it is high, but this is a difficult play to get right, and I suspect this production is only partway there.