I remember Rachel Corrie’s death in 2003. Well, I remember reading that an American student was killed by a bulldozer while protesting in Gaza. I felt for her family and suspected that youth and ignorance may have played a part. My Name is Rachel Corrie has ensured that I will never forget her name and I know her for much more than a headline about a conflict that – no matter how much I read about – I struggle to understand.
Rachel was 23 when she went to Palestine. Like so many well-educated, well-loved students from affluent cities and neo-liberal (her phrase) parents, she was involved in student activism and wanted to see the people at the other end of their tax dollars that support Israel. Rachel joined the International Solidarity Movement, a non-violent direction action group, in Rafah on the Gaza strip where she lived with locals and actively protested the destruction of civilian homes by the Israeli military.
For all its harrowing revelations about the struggle for existence in Rafah, it isn’t an anti-Israel piece of polemic theatre. It’s simply the story of one young woman’s experience of the Gaza strip.
Created by Alan Rickman and Katharine Vine in 2005, the script is created from Rachel’s diary entries and emails. These personal thoughts and opinions were meant for no one beyond herself or her family and reveal a subjective view so honest that she reveals her soul. Without the pressure and self-censorship imposed by a judgemental audience, Rachel wrote about dealing with international white person privilege, the difficultf criticising Israel without sounding anti-semitic and ultimately questioned her belief in human nature. If great writing is all about honesty, great writers should learn from Rachel Corrie.
Director Daniel Clarke (The Event at this year’s Melbourne Fringe) and designer Cassandra Backler find the theatrical in a text not written to be performed. The pain of watching Rachel packing boxes knowing her parents will unpack them underlies the joy of meeting her, children’s shoes mix with the rubble of destroyed homes and toy-sized military bulldozers show how small a human can be.
Hannah Norris (who was wonderful Goodbye Ruby Tuesday) is Rachel. No more needs to be said. In a remarkably honest performance, Hannah ensures that Rachel is not noble or heroic and never lets Rachel forsee the death that awaits her. Rachel never set out to change the world, she just wanted to understand one small part of it and found herself in a situation that defies understanding.
My Name is Rachel Corrie is the kind of theatre that can change the way we see the world.
Image by Gary Cockburn.