Claire (Catherine McClements) is an Anglican minister and director of the church choir. After a mass shooting erupts at choir practice, she tries to come to terms with the aftermath. This is Belvoir’s The Events.
It is a story that has become all too familiar in contemporary society with horrors like the one that inspired the play (Anders Breivik carrying out a mass shooting in Norway in 2011, citing multiculturalism as the catalyst) becoming alarmingly frequent. The questions Claire is trying to contend with are all too relevant and important in our current climate: what drives someone to commit these acts? What makes someone evil? How are we to cope with the trauma these events cause?
David Greig’s insightful play, under Clare Watson’s perceptive direction, provokes the audience to reflect on all of these questions. As Claire begins to grapple with the negative thoughts that plague her she encounters several characters – her partner, her therapist, journalists and those connected to the attacker – yet the one person, ‘The Boy’ (Johnny Carr) assumes all these roles; Claire’s obsession with her attacker’s motives has consumed her. Occasionally, it was difficult to distinguish between Carr’s characters, but this confusion did capture the disorientation that settles in Claire as she becomes steadily fixated on her attacker.
McClements cuts a haunting figure as Claire, vacillating between frantic and desperate to calm and composed. It’s an affecting performance that captures the turmoil of trying to live with a ruptured spirit. Carr, her opposite, is everything Claire isn’t: a caring authority of a therapist, a helpless partner, and most of all, a wild fanatic.
Watson’s production sometimes held Claire and her emotional drive at arms’ length, and– as when Claire is reliving the moment she came face to face with the shooter, only to be distracted by a scientific interlude – this occasionally shattered the absorbing emotional tenor of the piece, leaving us with an unsatisfying sense of distance.
Greig has built this retreat from trauma into the script; touching scenes are often interrupted by flashbacks or asides, which captures a certain turbulent state of mind but seemed to ultimately undermine the emotional impact of the play.
Rather than exploring a vast range of emotions, then, The Events deals with the only intellectual questions posed by such trauma. The poignancy of this approach will vary from audience member to audience member; a little more emotion would have perhaps drawn more of us closer to Claire and to the play.
Claire and The Boy are joined onstage by a choir, and on opening night this chorus was comprised of two community choirs: One World Choir and Choir of Love. The choral elements – hymns, popular music, and The Boy’s manifesto – all resonated through the audience from the choir with disarming authenticity, yet the impact of some songs could have been greater had the choirs more cohesion. A little more rehearsal could help, however ultimately these are community choirs playing the role of a community choir and thus they bring great truth to the piece.
The Events, like a puzzle, lays out its pieces and asks you to put them together, just as Claire is struggling to do so herself. It’s a captivating, thoughtful exercise trying to make it all fit, but those pieces never create a full, cathartic whole.