My Name is Rachel Corrie ****

My Name is Rachel Corrie may be one of the most controversial plays of recent years.  To some, it is an impassioned political piece that doesn’t mince words and depicts the plight of an oppressed and abused people through the eyes of an innocent victim; to others, it is a slanderous one-sided play that takes a horrific event and twists it into propaganda.

Rachel Corrie was an American political activist who travelled to Palestine as part of a peace programme.  On March 16, 2003, Corrie stood in front of an Israeli bulldozer that was about to demolish a house; she paid with her life.  Corrie’s act of defiance resonated around the world, and the events surrounding her stand are still being discussed and debated to this day.

Actor Alan Rickman and journalist Katharine Viner have taken Corrie’s journal entries, voice messages and other writings and messages and have managed to edit a two-hour verbatim play.  Through Corrie’s own words, a portrait of an impassioned and intelligent activist is painted, taking the audience from Corrie’s childhood to the moments before her death.

With such material, it would be easy to either romanticise or make a martyr out of Corrie.   Instead, director Ros Philips and actor Mairi Phillips go for a theatrical tour de force based on reality, resulting in a production that feels far more truthful than any of the news broadcasts covering the events around the story.  Together, they not only manage to make a compelling piece of political theatre, they also create a poignant portrait of a very interesting person, and it’s hard to walk away in the end without the feeling that you actually got to know Corrie.

Mairi Phillips creates a very believable depiction and manages to hold the audience for the full running time.  She comes across as amiable and yet appalled at what lies before her.  It’s a performance that is impressive on every level and deserves to be remembered for some time.

Director Ros Philips is equally good in her work, managing to make the action brisk yet personable.  The production is also filled with numerous flicks and flourishes that never feel forced but make the production feel far more theatrical than many political-based dramas, resulting in a mature production that is never boring.

If there is a flaw, it can be found in the concluding moments.  Moving from verbatim theatre to actual recorded footage to cover Corrie’s death might have seemed like a good idea to Rickman and Viner, but the result counters the humane touch that the previous two hours established.  Even the final moment, a clip of Corrie as a young girl, feels a bit forced.  The production doesn’t help matters by using small screens for this final vital moment, which feels more like a slight exhalant whimper.

Its actor and director may both be trainees in a scheme at Citizens, but this is not a student-based production; it is powerful theatre of the highest calibre.  Thought provoking, highly moving and constantly engaging, My Name is Rachel Corrie will resonate with its audience for some time, reminding its audience that the casualties of any armed conflict are not meaningless numbers but human beings with thoughts, feelings and names.

Originally written for Onstage Scotland.

Playing at the Citizens until March 20, 2010.

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