Tuesday, April 12, 2005

My Name Is Rachel Corrie - Royal Court Upstairs - 11 April

Edited from the writings of Rachel Corrie by Alan Rickman and Katharine Viner
Directed by Alan Rickman
Designed by Hildegard Bechtler
It seems enormously petty to mention that I first saw Megan Dodds in a production of Hamlet at the Old Vic in 1999, even if the production featured Paul Rhys giving what I always claim was best performance in the role Hamlet that I’ve ever seen. It seems pointless to point out that, not knowing anything about her, although her name was familiar, she seems to have settled here from America and that that may have been why here accent sounded so authentic to my cloth ears.
This was the story of an American peace activist who died under a bulldozer in Rafah in the Gaza strip and, doing a bit of research on the web, I realise that the middle-aged American couple sitting in the row in front of me, wearing black and white checked Palestinian scarves, may well have been her parents. A newspaper article from their home town talked about the play and said here parents had stopped off on their way back from visiting Gaza and were planning to see it.
One of the problems with the play’s subject matter was mentioned in the play itself. It is the conflation of the Israeli government and the Jewish people – that to criticise the Israeli Government or army is automatically anti-Semitic and a vile attack on the Jewish people. Also any show of support of the Palestinian people gets argued to be support for the suicide bombers. In fact only a few clicked links from the RachelCorrie.org memorial website gets you to an article that describes Rachel Corrie action in standing in front of a bulldozer as an idiotic “suicide on behalf of terrorists” and others that show her burning an American flag drawn on a piece of paper.
The play is in her words, her testimony and her point of view. It is edited and designed to evoke your sympathy. In my case I wanted to know more about her, the background to her activities and her death. There are some rather graphic photographs out there.
Some of the unsympathetic websites paint her as an unpatriotic freak or an oddball but it is a little difficult to justify that point of view when you hear her eloquent, touching and often amusing words. It could be argued that this is all due to skilful editing and there may be some truth in the matter. However the final speech sounded unedited and was taken from a long email she sent before days before her death. It seemed sincere and, although she backed the right to armed struggle in the defence of family and land, she also wrote about the need for non-violent civil disobedience in a Gandhian manner.
The problem I’ve always found with non-violence is that it only seems to work against people that have a sense of shame. Or that the protest effectively shows the people against whom it is being made, that their self-image is a lie. Britain liked to think it was fair minded and treated India well but Gandhi showed them up. The Chinese soldiers in Tianenmen Square didn’t seem to care about the peaceful protestors.There was a photographer on the stairs up to the theatre just outside the upstairs bar. He seemed to be there to photograph dignitaries as they entered and the staggered up. Actually the only time I saw him take a photograph was after an important sounding flurry of activity in front of a blue suited man who turned out to be Karl Johnson. I know who he is because I’ve seen him in more than a dozen plays and he steals every scene he is in, but a photograph at a first night?

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