In the light of recent events in the US, it’s sad to realise that while this production is particularly relevant right now, it’s also far too often that kind of statement can be made. Reflecting on the aftermath of a mass shooting, The Events tells the tale of one survivor trying to make sense of the vicious act that has turned her life upside down.
Inspired by the 2011 attacks in Norway by a far-right terrorist, playwright David Greig has crafted an investigation into the cause and effects of such behaviour. Creating a scenario where protagonist Claire (Catherine McClements), an Anglican minister whose choir group is attacked and killed by a lone gunman, attempts to reconcile her life in the aftermath. The story is told in the context of a choir rehearsal. On stage for each performance is one of eight local community choirs – for this performance, Jonathon Welch’s THECHO!R – who kick the show off with a song of their own choice and then the compositions of John Browne. They also contribute to the narrative in ways that bring a powerfully moving naturalism to the story.
As Claire attempts to seek out answers and determine whether she can forgive the actions of The Boy (Johnny Carr) who perpetrated this crime against her community, she visits upon his father, a psychologist, a far-right wing politician and a journalist whose work is misinterpreted by The Boy. Carr as The Boy represents all these characters, and more, with a precise and persuasive manner, going from the soft supportive representation of Claire’s lesbian partner, to the darkly menacing confidence of a talk show version of The Boy, glibly answering questions from a ‘studio audience’, played by the choir.
McClements is perfectly balanced in her portrayal of the troubled minister, maintaining a reflection of the woman’s innate softness and generosity while demonstrating the underlying anger caused by the trauma in a wholly identifiable way. The structure of Greig’s writing provides a slow reveal of information from the fateful day and the personal torment it has placed upon Claire, so that the story goes through waves of emotion that McClements navigates beautifully.
As The Boy’s motivation is given as being guided by an ugly pro-nationalist movement, Greig makes some frustratingly reasoned points for both sides. However, the true masterstroke in his storytelling of this production is the choice to use real community choirs on stage and to stud the tale with their singing, to not only reflect the emotional trajectory of the play, but so that they become symbolic of the characters whose lives have been taken away. When Claire experiences a racist minimalisation of her choir (and her community), she defies the opinion by naming them individually, instantly creating a sense of transference to the choir on stage and making them real to the story at the same time. It’s powerful stuff.
Direction by Clare Watson flows smoothly through scenes and the transitions of character for The Boy, maintaining a brisk pace and never allowing the emotional tension to dissipate. Musical Director Luke Byrne is as much a part of the action as the choir, providing accompaniment on piano throughout and delivering a beautiful interpretation of John Browne’s evocative score. The finale ultimo is particularly moving.
In the wake of trauma, it’s a natural human reaction to search for reasons why, yet in the face of such mindless action it is impossible to find answers. Despite that, the journey of The Events is a worthwhile one to take, thanks to an excellent script and a highly affecting construct.