My Name is Rachel Corrie at the Young Vic review ****

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My Name is Rachel Corrie

Young Vic, 6th October 2017

I have raved about actor Erin Doherty in the past. She was the lynchpin in the excellent ensemble for Jack Thorne’s Junkyard (Junkyard at the Rose Theatre review *****), and was unbearably poignant in Katherine Soper’s excellent debut play Wish List. I gather from the reviews that she is the best thing about the possibly misconceived The Divide, Alan Ayckbourn’s new play. I will make my own mind up when it comes to the Old Vic.

Ms Doherty seems to have that rare ability of making an immediate emotional connection to an audience. There are plenty of other qualities that the best stage actors possess and I get that sometimes we may not need, or want, that emotional connection to the actors on stage, depending on the play, but when we do, it is genuinely thrilling and quite rare in my experience.

My Name is Rachel Corrie premiered at the Royal Court Theatre in 2005, and has popped up around the world ever since. It was written by the generous Alan Rickman together with Katharine Viner, now editor in chief of the Guardian (she is the one who begs you for a contribution if you read the Guardian content online – just pay up if you don’t want the digital world to end up full of crap content provided by idiots like me). It is based on the diaries, journals and e-mails of Rachel Corrie, an activist who was killed in contentious circumstances in the Gaza Strip when protesting the demolition of the home of a Palestinian family.

Ms Corrie was clearly a young woman of immense talent and passion. Her parents, who Ms Doherty sketches with great skill, her education and her location in liberal Washington state (“a place for hippie kids”), combined to create a world view that she determined to explore through action and not just words. Her writings reveal a woman who was anything but dull and worthy, they are shot through with poetry, humour and self-awareness. She was also no political ingenue, as some might have you believe, and constantly questioned her views and the legitimacy and value of her protest. She did have a strong view on the plight of Palestinians, which deepened with engagement after she joined the International Solidarity Movement, and this is fully exposed in the play, which also has little truck with the Israeli view of her death as an “accident”. This firm, but remember still personal stance, is what has led to continued complaints about the content of the play by Israeli advocate organisations.

I found the passages from Ms Corrie’s precocious early life (“everyone must feel safe”), and from the days before her death, most intense, as she seemed to determine how and why her life, and possible death, would have an impact. The last e-mail home sums it all up. The need to get things done, made transparent in her constant list writing, and to get others to listen, pervades Ms Doherty’s energetic performance. The set design from Sophie Thomas is minimal, just a wooden wall, with a handful of props. Ms Doherty even gets to change some of Joe Price’s blunt lighting design. Kieran Lucas’s sound design is equally direct. Wisely then, director Josh Roche, who chose to stage this play as the winner of 2017 JMK Award, leaves his actor alone to find Ms Corrie’s voice. Which she does. Brilliantly.

I don’t know how sympathetic Ms Doherty is to the message of the play, nor do I care. She is an actor. It is her job. But I do think she had real sympathy for her character which informed her impassioned performance. I await her next role (after the aforementioned Divide) with real interest.

 

Junkyard at the Rose Theatre review *****

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Junkyard

Rose Theatre Kingston, 30th April 2017

Once again I am writing some thoughts about a play (well musical in this case) which has been and gone. I really haven’t got the hang of this have I. Still this blog is mostly to stop me from annoying the rest of the family so I guess it doesn’t matter.

So Junkyard was/is a co-production between Headlong, the Rose, the mighty Bristol Old Vic and Theatre Clwyd. The book and lyrics come from one Jack Thorne, the creative brain behind the Harry Potter play which garnered all the accolades at the recent Olivier Awards, and who is directing the Woyzeck about to open at the Old Vic with John Boyega in the lead. I know Woyzeck through Berg’s opera and I am looking forward to this big time. Jack Thorne also co-wrote the This is England film series with Shane Meadows which I highly recommend if you have never seen it.

As an aside I cannot bear this Potter stuff. MS loved the books when he was a boy, LD is addicted to the films, we had a wonderful day out at that Potter World thingy (one of those many occasions when I have been forced to eat humble pie) and I think JK Rowling is a marvellous human being. But I still think it is calculated, derivative nonsense.

Anyway Tourist try not to alienate your audience.

So why go to see Junkyard? And worse still why drag BD along? It might have been her turn to “go with Dad to see something otherwise he will moan on about how no-one cares about him despite all he has done for us” but on paper a musical about kids in a playground in the late 1970s is not designed to wow the sophisticated, worldly, WhatsApp-arati

As well as the massive stamp of quality from this being Headlong and directed by Jeremy Herrin (most recently People, Places and Things and This House), the main draw in booking was Erin Doherty. She plays the lead Fiz in this production and it her smiling face in the promotional pic above. And I think she is going to be a massive stage star. This is the second time I have seen her lead a play. First time was in Wish List, the Bruntwood Prize winning debut play by Katherine Soper at the Royal Court. This was a very moving account of a pair of siblings struggling to get by in today’s Britain. Erin Doherty as Tamsin was riveting as she maintained a quiet, optimistic dignity despite the wearying array of pressures she had to bear.

The mark of a great play/production for me is whether in sticks in your mind and you come back to it weeks and months after you have seen it. So far this year Wish List, along with Winter Solstice at the Orange Tree, the Almeida Hamlet, Toneelgroep Amsterdam’s Roman Tragedies and The Kid Stays in the Picture fit this bill. I suspect Consent at the NT will also join the list.

Anyway stop rambling. Junkyard is terrific. I don’t really like musicals but the songs here are short and catchy, and emerge directly from the prose like a kind of West Country singspiel, and the music by composer Steven Warbeck could barely be appear to be any simpler (much trickier to do that it sounds I reckon). The plot is hardly imaginative, a bunch of troubled kids (the “junk”) at a Bristol school in the dark days of 1979 are roped into helping an idealist “youth worker” type, Rick, into constructing an adventure playground out of junk materials. They resist at first, they come round, the school authorities step in to close it down, it mysteriously burns down, but the kids rebuild and it is saved for the next generation. Literally the oldest “look what us kids can do if we really want to” plot in the book.

But OMG it packs an emotional punch. It is very, very funny, the kids are foul mouthed, arch and knowing, and easy to root for. The issues they face, with “chaotic” (as I believe the papers call it) family lives are beautifully rendered with simple brush strokes and the drama very real. The set is a fully paid up member of the cast. The energy and enthusiasm of the cast is infectious – cliche I know but they really did look like they were having a great time – and whilst I singled out Erin Doherty there wasn’t a duff line, note or step in the house

So this old curmudgeon ends up surreptitiously wiping a tear from his eye at the end and BD had to admit, unprompted, that she really enjoyed it. We didn’t quite become as unselfconscious as the play and performers in front of us but it took us mighty close. An absolute joy.