Text by David Greig
Direction by Ramin Grey
Starring Neve McIntosh and Clifford Samuel
A Production of
Actors Touring Company
New York Theatre Workshop

Reviewed by David Spencer

The Events a production of the British Actors Touring Company is one of those theatre pieces whose ability to affect you comes down to personal sensibility, not only because of its subject matter but because its mode of presentation involves community participation. The story takes its inspiration from Anders Breivik’s massacre of 77 young people at a youth camp on Utøya Island, Some of whom—the program notes are sketchy here—may have been part of a community choir run by a female vicar with whom the creators met while doing their research.

                  The play, or as identified perhaps more accurately, the text created by David Greig, tells, in mostly remembered testimony (no gunfire, melodrama or blood), the story of a day when a terrorist walked into a choir rehearsal with a gun and randomly blew away many of its members…whose hostilities were ended by the intervention of the vicar-choirmaster with an act of remarkable bravery and even more remarkable tenderness.

                  The production, helmed by Ramin Gray, employs only two professional actors and a pianist. In the current company (the play has been performed worldwide with at least one other cast, so a web-search reveals) Neve McIntosh (Madame Vastra, to you Doctor Who fans) is the vicar and Clifford Samuel the terrorist (and others); they step in an out of character, alternately playing scenes and providing documentary-like continuity…of sorts.

                  And there’s a third participant: a local community choir, and not the same one at each performance. They’re managed by the third member of the company, pianist and musical director Magnus Gilljam. In what must be a very deftly organized and well-codified process, they’re rehearsed in a number of songs, assigned minimal text (to be read, not memorized) and drilled in minimal staging. The point being, I suppose, to add the poignancy of real civilians; to make it impossible to dismiss the honor and fragility of innocents in the cross-hairs. And etcetera.

                  Again, what this would all mean to you isn’t really for a critic to guess at or attempt to assess. Personally, to be unflinchingly candid, I found The Events to be intriguing for the first 10-15 minutes or so and thereafter rather dull. Once the game plan was defined, it held no suspense or revelation for me. The general audience reaction seemed respectful but subdued, and not, I’d wager, because the subject matter and treatment were too sobering or disquieting for an unequivocal burst of approval at the finish. But then, when The Events concludes its engagement at NYTW, it will have racked up a history of over 200 performances; and what it may have meant to that group of people on that night in NYC (let alone to me) may be quite different on another night, or in another place, to an audience who may have its own cultural or personal reasons for feeling it more keenly.

                  The best I can do is accord it a noble try at something different, in the service of making controlled, artistic sense out of something randomly, artlessly senseless…and leave the final verdict to you.

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