David Greig’s The Events garnered plenty of attention and acclaim when it premièred in Edinburgh in 2013, winning a Scotsman Fringe First Award. Exploring the aftermath of a mass shooting in a quiet town, the piece is directly inspired by events in Utøya, Norway and promises to be “daring”, “provocative” and “destructive”. Yet this scaled-up production for Southbank Centre’s Chorus festival has become a show in disarray that has lost sight of its dramatic purpose.
The Events focuses on Claire, choir master and ultra-modern vicar (her female partner, Katrina, builds yurts for a living…) who struggles to find answers after an unnamed ‘Boy’ interrupts her choir rehearsal and shoots several members dead, with no apparent motive. The performance in the Queen Elizabeth Hall comprises 19 choirs from London and further afield, and I don’t want to knock their involvement – I’m sure it was a fantastic experience for all concerned, and the objective of bringing together a community of singers is commendable. Yet it has a disastrous effect on staging, robbing the show of its intensity and focus. With the rustling of song sheets, slow scene transitions, and creaking stage as the huge choir found their seats, you could almost be sitting through a school concert. At various points throughout the show, members of the choir are called upon to deliver lines, a directorial decision by Ramin Gray that sadly misfires as Greig’s potentially powerful words are lost in the inexperience and poor delivery of those who, in their defence, are not actors at all.
It’s a shame, because underneath the muddle that this production has become, there is clearly some good work happening. Amanda Drew (Claire) is on strong form, giving a convincing performance of a woman desperate to find meaning in an apparently meaningless atrocity. Clifford Samuel is also impressive, shifting adeptly between his role as ‘The Boy’ and the other characters along Claire’s search for the truth – an old friend of the perpetrator, his father, Claire’s psychiatrist, her partner Katrina – with ease and skilfully delicate characterisation. There are flashes of humour, while certain scenes carry the promise of something gripping, most notably the eventual meeting between Claire and The Boy in prison. Yet by the time we reach this, the dulling confusion of the previous 100 minutes has worn us down. A potentially intriguing debate about race and racism is another highlight, but once again struggles to stand out in a show whose structure undermines its own explorations. Other scenes teeter on the brink between provocative and pretentious, making the audience work hard to comprehend all that is being presented to us – no bad thing in itself, but in a piece so knotty and confused, this does not help the problem.
The concept of the play in involving live choral music has bags of promise; yet this implementation of it brings disappointment as disorganised staging, confused structure and some quite frankly bizarre moments smother any emotional intensity that could shed light on the struggle for answers in the face of apparently random acts of violence. A wonderful event to participate in, perhaps, but ultimately dissatisfying for its audience.
The Events played at Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre on 5 April. For more information about the Chorus festival, see the Southbank Centre website.