Edited by the late Alan Rickman and Journalist Katherine Viner, My Name is Rachel Corrie is composed of emails and diary entries written by deceased activist Rachel Corrie. Corrie was tragically killed at the age of 23 in March 2003, protecting a house from being demolished in the Gaza Strip. My Name is Rachel Corrie grapples with fresh-faced vigour, complex questions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, privilege, fairness and global justice. However, despite innovative direction from 2017 JMK Award winner Josh Roche, it at times fails to jump off the page and on to the stage.
The first section of the play meanders through the thoughts of Rachel, played by Erin Doherty, at a pace that is both dizzying and sluggish. Though beautifully written, the first section is dense, its diary roots evident. We learn about Rachel’s upbringing and the roots of her convictions, but the lack of real drama driving this section makes these numerous sentiments forgettable. Rachel stands before the audience with an umbrella, dressed in a silver raincoat and wearing fluorescent sunglasses, having shared her innermost thoughts with the audience; yet something fails to connect and we are still left wondering: who is Rachel Corrie?
Ironically, it is only when the narrative structure shifts and becomes more diary-like that the play and the character begin to come alive. Roche’s innovative directing techniques come into play as he uses lighting to glorious effect in order to aid Corrie’s retelling of key events during her stay, such as her journey through Jerusalem, to Rafah and her experiences crossing checkpoints. Death and violence seem to continually loom, impinging on her interactions with small children in the area and the families that have welcomed her into their homes with open arms. In one of the play’s most poignant moments, we relive Corrie’s attempt to retrieve a corpse, later hear of wells being destroyed in the area and the towering presence of the IDF towers.
Doherty exceptionally plays out Corrie’s iterative process of coming to terms with what she witnesses, its implication on the residents of the Gaza Strip and her own perspective both as an American and a volunteer. Candidly admitting to herself and to the audience that she “doesn’t always know the political implications” of her words and confronting her privilege as an “international”. She reacts with anger, sadness and confusion to the events she witnesses, whilst trying to will her to continue her work and figure out what she’s doing in life. Doherty paints the portrait of someone courageous, a bit lost and most of all very human. The not exactly seamless transitions to phone calls from Corrie’s mother and father who share their own fears for her and her political opinions, also serve to skilfully highlight what she has given up by going to the Gaza Strip.
My Name is Rachel Corrie finishes with a plea from young Rachel to end world hunger by 2000. Whilst her deadline has clearly passed, her confidence, visible even as a child is infectious, filling the audience with hope and conviction that they too, in some small way, can try to change the world for the better.
My Name is Rachel Corrie played at the Young Vic until October 28 2017.
Photo: Ellie Kurrtz