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Writing for Us
My Name is Rachel Corrie
The Original Review by Brian Clover
Considered purely as art, this is a very American story, not unlike a story by Hemingway or Robert Stone. The arc moves from teenage self-obsession in a suburban bedroom to self-sacrifice in a foreign land where even the small children have a precocious understanding of world politics. It starts in innocence and hope and ends with the horrified recognition that something like evil may actually exist. A young woman who leaves her hometown saying 'I'm phobic of community' dies defending somebody else's.
But My Name is Rachel Corrie is not simply art. Alan Rickman and Katherine Viner have subtly devised the play from Rachel's own writings and what we have here, as far as one can tell, is her truth. And what a writer she was! What a career she could have had. There are passages about love and work funnier than most sit-coms; accounts of parents and daughter's fumbling attempts at understanding more touching than many plays or movies; descriptions of common human kindness and brutality; pen portraits; and lists, always lists for Rachel was an organised and organising young woman.
What you won't find much of here is polemic, apart from one passage when, exasperated by what she takes to be her parents' failure to understand the nightmare world she has found, she lectures them… and promptly apologises. The piece is not about politics, but about someone experiencing a reality they never dreamt of. Rachel alternately strains to understand how such things can possibly be, and wishes she could let herself be re-absorbed into Olympia's more innocent world of heart-stopping sunsets, owl women and subterranean salmon.
Rachel isn't idealised. You sense she could perhaps be a pain, self-centred, stubborn, loquacious. But we are allowed see her self-assurance crumple, her certainties challenged, her faith in the future shaken. Shorn of its contemporary references, this could be a portrait of an idealist seen by Dostoievsky or Conrad. The audience is allowed to make up its own mind about Rachel. You can strongly disagree with her views but still be moved by the painful integrity with which she struggles to construct them. This Rachel wanted to be a writer, so set out to discover the world to have something to write about. But much later, rendered speechless by her experiences, she is forced to ask, 'How can I be a poet?'
Those with no interest in world politics will still find this a masterly production. Alan Rickman's direction is a masterpiece of fluent and subtle pacing. Hildegard Bechtler's stark set is a work of art in its own right, taking us from the West Coast to Gaza in ten paces. But Megan Dodds gives us a stunning performance as Rachel, nuanced and profound over the ninety minutes she occupies the stage alone. This is what the theatre is for. Now we need a play about the man who drove the bulldozer: I suspect that's what Rachel would have wanted.
Mendes at the Donmar
Peter Ackroyd's History of London: The Biography
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co. Click image to buy.
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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