The Granville Town Hall is an intimate setting for The Events. The lived-in ordinariness of the space, the cups of tea and an urn out the front, are a good stand in for the play’s main setting: a church hall where a choir has assembled for rehearsals. “Join the big crazy tribe”, urges the lesbian church minister Claire (Catherine McClements). It’s the kind of banal place where a mass murder – the play’s subject matter – is never expected to occur, but one day just might.
The production notes say the show, by Scottish playwright David Greig, began as “an investigation” of the mass killing in Norway by Anders Breivik of 69 people on the island of Utoyo. The details of the shooting are left vague though, and this Sydney Festival version is sprinkled with some Australian references and locations. The Boy of the play could be any killer: Anders, or Martin Bryant, or one of any growing number of disaffected outsiders who’ve exploded one day in a deadly rage (and there’s a real, if unstated, poignancy to the fact that in the neighbouring suburb of Parramatta, just a few months ago, 15-year-old Farhad Khalil Mohammad Jabar shot and killed police force employee Curtis Cheng).
McClements does a finely tuned job of conveying a woman whose deep need for resolution drives her to madness, rage, and moments of mania and fantastical delusion. Her acting partner, Johnny Carr, has a strong stage presence; but he plays each of the many characters he portrays – ‘the boy’, ‘the father’, the ‘school friend’, ‘the psychiatrist’ etc – in such a similar, fairly flat, register it can be hard to distinguish where some characters start and end. Perhaps that’s deliberate, as Claire’s obsession with “the Boy” inflects her view of everyone she interacts with.
In one scene the choir (a nightly-changing cast drawn from local community choirs wherever the play is performed) become the audience of a what seems to be a perverse reality television show. They take turns asking Carr, playing a “tribal warrior” (the murderer?) questions: from his favourite song, to what he likes to eat. It seems to be a comment on both the banality of the media’s attempt to make sense of the inexplicable, to find reasons for that which is beyond reason, as well as a comment on the way we can make celebrities and cult figures of people with deadly intentions.
The play, as my theatre date noted, could be a “little confusing at times”. But perhaps that is the point: “The sheer horror, the scale, where it came from. It bewilders me,” Claire says. Such tragedies can never be fully explained. And so, sometimes there’s nothing left to do but sing. And Clair’s community chorus – the “one big crazy tribe” – lifted the show out of relentless darkness, finding a beautiful harmony we so desperately need.