My Name is Rachel Corrie (Citizens Theatre)

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Jo Shaw

My Name Is Rachel Corrie is one of the  last decade’s most critically acclaimed pieces of political theatre for good reason.

Every sentence, joke and entreaty for the end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is taken directly from the journals, blogs and answer machine messages left behind by Rachel Corrie; an American political activist who was killed in March 2003 by an Israeli tank, aged just 23.

Ros Philips’ production at the Citizens Theatre uses these insightful sources verbatim and the result is both inspiring and affecting. Philips’ production is an honest and faithful portrayal of Rachel’s great ability to convey her deepest feelings and hopes through writing, with touching and self-deprecating wit. Above all, it communicates Rachel’s idealism without ever seeming like a political diatribe or a personal tirade.

Herein lies the momentous appeal and the heartbreaking reality of My Name is Rachel Corrie; it is both a political and a personal tragedy. Rachel’s writing portrays all the horror of violence in a conflict which seems no closer to resolution now than in 2003.

Her detailed account of the suffering of the Palestinian people and their dignity in the face of insurmountable military power ensures that any sense of self-importance is tactfully avoided.

The audience is privy to a barrage of facts and figures about water sources and helicopters, which feels as overwhelming as it must have done for Rachel. Her intimate, day-to-day account of life in a war zone, with its insight into Palestinian domestic life as well as the logistics of peaceful protest, ensures that the audience feels a sense of identification and involvement with Rachel and her cause.

The reality of ongoing conflict becomes inescapable in the tiny stalls studio. Mairi Phillips’ commendable performance allows Rachel’s sense of justice and hope to take centre stage in the personal and reflective set. Changing from a dreamily decorated and brightly coloured bedroom to a make-shift tent effectively communicates the self-awareness of Rachel’s journey.

This unassuming lack of self-righteousness is one of the most charming aspects of Phillips’ performance as Rachel, as it acknowledges her past mistakes as we progress from a re-reading of her diary to the documentation of every moment in Gaza. Phillips’ portrayal of Rachel is so easy to identify with that it is almost unsettling.

Music and costume are utilised well, but never allowed to overshadow Rachel’s words. Phillips never relinquishes the audience’s attention or empathy and her magnetism is a perfect match for Rachel’s soaring and lucid writing. The sense of intimacy that the audience is afforded at the beginning of the production makes the final tragedy seem like a personal loss, as well as a political travesty.

The deeply exuberant and humorous beginning to the production makes only for a more tragic end as we see Rachel’s faith in non-violent action begin to waiver. Ros Philips’ production never feels exploitative and the same can be said for its conclusion. The raw normality of her final email is that of a determination to continue to try and help the Palestinian people and retain optimism in the face of so much suffering, which makes this personal and political tragedy even more harrowing. It is often asked whether the world is forgetting about Palestine. My Name is Rachel Corrie is a resonating and moving production, which can only help draw attention to this conflict and to the life of an incredible young woman.