Making sense of a senseless act is how actor Derbhle Crotty describes her character’s quest in The Events, written by Scottish playwright David Greig. This is a play about a mass shooting, prompted by — but not based on — the killing of 27 people in Norway in 2011 by right-wing extremist Anders Breivik.
The play, which debuted at Edinburgh last year, is produced by the London-based Actors Touring Company. It was voted ‘best play’ of 2013 by The Guardian and won The Scotsman Fringe First Awards. Crotty plays a priest in a small seaside village. A boy walks into her choir rehearsal and slaughters several members.
“We don’t dramatise the event,” says Crotty. “It becomes clear in the course of the play, which jumps around in time. Essentially, the play is about Claire trying to come to terms with what has happened. I play Claire all the way through, while Clifford Samuel plays everybody else, including the boy, Claire’s partner, a therapist and a psychiatrist.”
Claire tries everything from shamanic ritual to keening with the choir. “She tries to find alternative ways to express the grief or to reframe it. But she really loses herself, becoming obsessed with the boy and trying to understand him. That’s at the heart of the play. There’s a particular line in it, which is: ‘How can I hate him if I don’t understand him?’ At one stage, her partner tells her that she’s just throwing herself against a wall and that nothing will change. Claire becomes more upset; she doesn’t eat or sleep. She tries everything, including forgiveness.”
The Events utilises a different community choir for each performance. A number of Cork choirs will alternate for the Everyman’s the forthcoming production, functioning like a Greek chorus, observing, singing and chanting.
“We only meet each choir an hour and a half before we go on stage. The choir is on stage all the time. The only thing they rehearse is the songs they’ve been given. Everything else happens on the night. It’s quite an experience for an audience to watch another audience. While the choir is active a lot of the time, they’re also sitting and watching from the back of the stage.”
Crotty says the play tackles issues that are at the heart of humanity. “Issues such as crime and punishment and the question as to whether the boy is mad or evil. There is also the question about how the community can survive the massacre. Every member of the audience brings its own particular perspective to the play and takes away something different. There are no solutions. The audience will learn something about the boy, but does it add up to everything that happens? Of course, Claire looks at his background, but, again, does that explain anything?”
Greig and his director, Ramin Gray, visited Norway and interviewed people connected to the tragedy. The resulting play is not harrowing to watch. “It’s not endlessly confronting the audience with the brutality of what happened. Claire isn’t rolling around screaming and crying. If anything, the crying is left to the audience,” Crotty says.
The Events was performed in New Haven, in Connecticut, close to the Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Newtown, where 20 children and six staff were shot dead by 20-year-old Adam Lanza, who also killed his mother.
“We followed each performance in New Haven with a discussion. Interestingly, the discussions were led by a faith leader. America is so religious. I don’t know if any of the parents of the victims came, but people really wanted to talk after the play.”