Jerwood Theatre Upstairs at the Royal Court, London SW1
Opened 14 April, 2005

Rachel Corrie, a native of Olympia, Wa., was living and working in Rafah in the Gaza Strip as a member of the International Solidarity Movement when she was killed in March 2003 by an Israeli Defence Forces-operated bulldozer. She was 23. Alan Rickman and Katharine Viner have created a 90-minute solo play from Corrie's journals and e-mail correspondences with her parents. On the one hand, it speaks powerfully of the outrage of what she saw and experienced: a people penned in, many unable to live in most of their own houses because of the danger of gunfire, starved even of water and so on. On the other, it presents the complex character of this intelligent, articulate young woman herself.

This latter respect is what gives me problems. Rickman and Viner, together with actress Megan Dodds in a remarkable performance, spend the first 35 minutes establishing Corrie as a precocious maverick before she travels to Gaza. The trouble is simply that she's too perfect a protagonist for a solo play: a young woman who couldn't walk down her main street without thinking of the salmon run piped beneath her feet, a compulsive listmaker (thus allowing lots of naked information into the play) whose "Five people to hang out with in eternity" are topped by the poet Rilke! I'm not for a moment doubting the genuineness of every word of this assemblage. But this is a case where life is in places too implausible for art.

Nor do I have any problems with the propagandistic nature of the piece. The case it puts is obviously one-sided, and persuasively so. But its emotional manipulation becomes more and more blatant: the e-mail in which Rachel considers her future, which you just know, even without the gradually tightening lighting effects, is going to be the last main entry; her final exit walking (literally) into the light, followed by an audio-taped extract of a colleague's account of her death, and topped off with a winsome video snippet of fifth-grade Rachel making a school speech about ending world hunger. By the end, I was having to remind myself that Rachel Corrie was a real, dead person, not simply an amalgam of dramatic devices. In that respect the piece does her a disservice even as it commemorates her and her beliefs.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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