Thursday, July 05, 2007

My Name Is Rachel Corrie

Edited by Alan Rickman and Kathy Viner
Unity Theatre (3rd July 2007)

Rachel Corrie was a 23-year-old student from Washington state, who met her death in the Gaza Strip, crushed by an Israeli Defence Force Caterpillar D9 armoured bulldozer as she tried to stop it demolishing the home of a Palestinian pharmacist. This play is her story.

My Name Is Rachel Corrie had a three day run at the Unity in February, and the theatre felt confident enough to bring it back just five months later, as part of the Liverpool Arabic Arts Festival. They were well rewarded, as there was another full house.

This collaboration between film actor Alan Rickman and journalist Kathy Viner has attracted acclaim and condemnation worldwide since it first opened two years ago at London's Royal Court. Like anything that throws a light on events in Palestine, it has been labelled anti-Semitic by Jewish groups and individuals who have financial or personal investments in the state of Israel. They are right to be fearful, because this is a powerful production which - in its strongest moments - goes beyond the headlines to the hellish daily lives of almost all Palestinians.

This one woman play takes its script from Corrie's diary entries and emails, as selected by Rickman and Viner. It opens in Rachel's apartment in Olympia, Washington, which looks messily unremarkable. As an adolescent girl, she tells her journal about her dreams of being an artist and travelling. So far, so average.

Like many people of her generation, it was the sense of urgency following 9/11 which radicalised Rachel Corrie. As Bush began his so-called 'war on terror', she found herself outraged and determined. “We can choose which side of history we want to be on now," she explains, "and how willing we are to fight. We are not outside.”

With no real resistance on the streets of Washington, Corrie travelled to Palestine, and immersed herself in the struggle for survival there. At the time, the Israeli government was starting work on its 'security wall', which critics claim is part of a deliberate attempt to strangle the Palestinian economy, and legitimise another land grab. With the backing of the United States, and using the distraction of the impending Iraq, the Sharon government began attacking volunteers with the International Solidarity Movement who were non-violently protesting against the campaign of demolition. One of those was British student Tom Hurndall, and another was Rachel Corrie.

The second and final scene takes places against this background, during the last weeks of Rachel's life. Torn between fear and courage as the gunshots ring out around her, she comes across as a vulnerable human being, who wanted to help the people around her, but felt guilty about the anguish she was causing her parents. Many passages are taken up with her wondering whether she could or should leave for the relative safety of home. But in the end she could not, and paid with her life.

Eyewitness Tom Dale narrates Corrie's death. The driver of the bulldozer could see her clearly, but “you see one, then both of her feet disappear.”

The second half of the play is intensely moving, and a historical document of one person's tragically short existence. Questions about the nature of middle east politics - and the role that westerners can play in bringing about peace - are not addressed. But they are suggested. And that is a start.
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