By Rachel Corrie, edited by Katharine Viner & Alan Rickman, 45 downstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne, until November 14
Review, Cameron Woodhead
IF THE world’s intractable problems make you feel insignificant and inclined to despair, go and see My Name Is Rachel Corrie. This provocative and profoundly moving portrait of one young woman’s idealism will make you feel bigger, more powerful and less alone.
Rachel Corrie was a US student killed by an armoured bulldozer, trying to stop the demolition of a Palestinian home in Gaza, 2003. Her death forms part of the bitter and complex genealogy of violence that afflicts the Middle East.
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Composed from Corrie’s emails and journals, the play doesn’t dwell on her tragic demise. It’s her curious and compassionate mind that comes into devastating focus.
The scene opens with Corrie lolling on a roll-up bed, talking fatuously into a hand-held camera. A wall of cardboard boxes borders a stage strewn with possessions. Initially, Corrie packs away her belongings – symbols of the privilege that makes her feel uncomfortable and responsible. She has no idea what to do with her life – she only wants to make a difference. What emerges is how ordinary it is to be empathic and imaginative. Corrie listens to Pat Benatar and has boyfriends and does embarrassing stuff she later regrets, but she also feels keenly the beauty in the brokenness of the world, the suffering that shadows its pleasures. What’s extraordinary is that Corrie put herself in mortal danger, acting on her conscience.
The second half is set in Gaza, where Corrie describes the daily terror for its inhabitants. Boxes are unpacked, now: a model of a Palestinian farm threatened by plastic bulldozers, children’s shoes amid rubble. Corrie’s is a one-sided account of the conflict. Palestinian agitprop? A bit. But it’s much more.
Daniel Clarke’s thought-provoking and technically accomplished direction takes its cue from one of Corrie’s more memorable insights – that in some sense we’re all kids curious about other kids, even if we’re sitting in tanks. And Hannah Norris’s superb performance weaves a potent, sensitive portrait of its subject, balancing self-deprecating humour, moral intensity and horror. The final moment – a video of Rachel Corrie, aged 10, giving a grave and sane speech about Third World hunger – is a heartbreaking reminder of what we ignore every day. I remember crying myself to sleep at the same age, tormented by dark-skinned children with wasted limbs and distended bellies and heads of alien proportion, who I knew, somehow, were a part of me. This is theatre that really matters – it shows how violence is viral, but that empathy can be too.