'The Events': Theater Review

The Events Production Still - H 2015
Matthew Murphy

The Events Production Still - H 2015

This frustratingly oblique work fails to mine the inherent drama of its horrific events

David Greig's play with music, featuring a local community choir at every performance, is inspired by the 2011 massacre of 77 people in Norway.

Scottish playwright David Greig, currently represented in London's West End with the musical Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, goes for a decided change of pace in The Events. This play loosely inspired by the massacre of 77 people perpetrated by Anders Breivik in Norway in 2011 features music as well, performed by a different community choir at every performance.

One would think, considering the horrific events it deals with, that the work would be a galvanizing theatrical experience. But the playwright's approach is, if anything, too thoughtful, presenting an opaque, stylized spin on the subject that inspires more bafflement than emotion. The production received its world premiere at the 2013 Edinburgh Fringe Festival and is now being given its NYC bow by New York Theatre Workshop.

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The play features but two actors: Neve McIntosh, playing Claire, a choir-leading vicar who survived the killing spree by hiding in a music room, only to see one of her students shot at point-blank range; and the perpetrator, identified as "The Boy" (Clifford Samuel). The latter performer also plays all the other characters in the piece, ranging from Claire's female lover to a psychiatrist to a right-wing politician.

Presented as a series of oblique episodes, the play depicts Claire's efforts to fully grasp what happened and decipher the killer's motivations. But of course there is no fully understanding such atrocities. "If I'm going to make a mark on the world I have to do it now," The Boy asserts. "The only means I have are art or violence…and I was never any good at drawing."

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The local choir acts as a sort of Greek chorus, singing songs ranging from the gospel hymn "How Great Thou Art" to Dizzee Rascal's "Bonkers" (a favorite of the killer's). Scripts in hand, the singers also occasionally deliver lines of dialogue. At one point they seem to quit the proceedings, quite rightly explaining their action by announcing, "It's depressing."

The episodic, allusive work never accumulates sufficient dramatic impact, even if individual moments resonate with a thoughtful intensity. That's no fault of the actors, who deliver fully committed, highly physical performances, or the choir, who gamely go through their musical and dramatic paces with admirable enthusiasm. But their efforts are not enough to give The Events the feel of an event.

Cast: Neve McIntosh, Clifford Samuel
Director: Ramin Gray
Playwright: David Greig
Music: John Browne
Set & costume designer: Chloe Lamford
Lighting designer: Charles Balfour
Sound designer: Alex Caplan
Production: Actors Touring Company
Presented by New York Theatre Workshop