By Victoria Ng
The Events, even though inspired by the Norwegian mass shooting committed by Anders Breivik that killed 69 young people, does not detail the incident, nor is it about Breivik himself. Instead, it fictionalises an event in order to explore the way in which a community responds to such atrocities. The play bravely confronts the extremely difficult questions that surround these ‘events’ but leaves questions deliberately unanswered. Despite leaving Alington House with no sense of closure, Cuth’s Drama Society’s DST debut told a striking story of the power of community in overcoming even the darkest of times.
The play has just two actors on stage: Athena Tzallas, who plays Claire, a priest and choirmaster who has survived a recent massacre; and Kishore Thiagarajan-Walker, who played The Boy. The small cast meant that the focus is on the most essential elements of theatre – storytelling, connections and character. It is stripped of any unnecessary staging, lighting and props, which could have potentially left the stage bare and empty at parts. Yet this was never the case – Athena and Kishore’s acting was absolutely phenomenal. There was such a palpable chemistry and bond between the two actors that made their connections so effortless and believable. They understood each other so well that the connection between them filled the stage. Athena’s performance was especially emotional – she was tasked with portraying a character that went through the quick changes of emotions from anger, to frustration, then to sorrow as she flitted between believing that she had control, and then realising that she did not. She expressed Claire’s lack of control over her own emotions but did this with such restraint that her character never ran the risk of appearing overly manic. The result was a gradation of emotions that was chillingly human.
Given that The Events is a play about the damaging desire to fathom the unfathomable, the infuriating and inward nature of Claire’s quest is emphasised by the clever decision to have Kishore play not only The Boy, but Claire’s girlfriend, the killer’s best friend, a far-right politician, and even a psychiatrist. To play not one, but several characters is no mean feat, but Kishore was outstanding. The split-second switches between the characters were so clean and seamless that it was almost terrifying. There was a particular moment where Claire had collapsed onto the floor crying, and Kishore, in the role of her girlfriend, had knelt down to comfort her, only to suddenly switch to the character of The Boy, and then back again. He portrayed The Boy as a disturbed murderer but there were also small deadpan moments of humour that gave his character so much depth. You could tell the immense effort and time Kishore and Athena had put into not only understanding the inner psyche of their characters, but their characters in relation to each other.
Perhaps the most unique aspect of the play was the use of a choir. In collaboration with Music Durham, the choir represented a community that Claire is a part of, scarred by the events of the massacre. The songs sung played a crucial role in maintaining the heavy atmosphere and communicated feelings that could never have been put into words. The choir itself, led by pianist Charles Gurnham was brilliant, singing pieces such as ‘How Great Thou Art’, and even a cover of Dizzy Rascal’s ‘Bonkers’ in the style of a folk song. I thought it was a great touch on the directors’ (Alice Chambers and Helena Snider) part to have the choir’s presence on stage throughout the play serving as a reminder that in the midst of uncertainties, the one thing that remains constant and can offer comfort is community. The ‘community centre’ atmosphere of Alington House also further enhanced this as it felt like the audience were invited personally to a rehearsal with Claire and the choir.
As with any show on its first night, there were fumbles with tech and the occasional entering of the piano at the wrong moment that unfortunately took away from what would have been a very tense and emotional atmosphere. There were also moments in the play where a member of the choir would have to try to stifle a laugh or reaction from watching the actors that also proved to be a little distracting. Nonetheless, these are minor issues that could be easily solved during the subsequent nights.
The Events is one of the most intense and well-executed plays I’ve ever watched in Durham. You will be on edge, frustrated and maddened by the lack of answers in spite of the constant slew of new information. You will feel choked up, and maybe you’ll even laugh or cry a little. But I promise, this one’s different, because the stunning combination of set, music and phenomenal acting will force you to ask yourself questions you have never dared to ask yourself. This one will make a mark on you – go watch it.
‘The Events’ is playing at Alington House on Thursday 18th and Saturday 20th January 2018.
Book tickets here
Photograph: Rachel Tan