My Name is Rachel Corrie

Allen Hall Theatre, University of Otago, Dunedin

25/02/2010 - 07/03/2010

Production Details

Can one woman make a difference?

In 2003 a young American student travelled to Israel to work with other activists from around the world for the International Solidarity Movement in support of the Palestinian people. While trying to protect the home of a Palestinian family she was killed by an Israeli bulldozer. Her name was Rachel Corrie.   

This documentary theatre play, which has been performed to enthusiastic reviews around the world, explores what it means to have hope. Taken largely from Corrie’s writings, My Name is Rachel Corrie tells of the plight of the Palestinian people, but more especially it records the determination of a young woman and her journey to try and make a difference in the world; to give a voice to those who do not have one:

“It hurts me, again, like it has hurt me in the past, to witness how awful we can allow the world to be.”

This production comes out of the Theatre Studies Programme’s interest in Documentary Theatre, and this play particularly resonated with actress Nadya Shaw Bennett (who recently completed her BA Hons degree in Theatre Studies) because, at the time of her death this passionate young woman was only a year older than Nadya is now.

“This has to stop. I think it is a good idea for us all to drop everything and devote our lives to making this stop. I don’t think it’s an extremist thing to do anymore.”

Allen Hall Theatre, University of Otago, Corner of Union and Leith Streets
Performance Dates and times:
February 25th -27th: 7.30pm
Sunday February 28th: 4pm
March 3rd -6th: 7.30pm 
Sunday March 7th: 4pm  

Prices: Adults = $15 | Students/Senior Citizens = $10 | High school Students = $8.
Door sales cash only.

To book call: (03) 479 8896 or email:   

Created with the assistance of a University of Otago Summer Scholarship

Martyr, pawn, terrorist?

Review by Terry MacTavish 28th Feb 2010

I never fail to be astonished and inspired by the passionate courage shown by the young as they take on the world, so the premise of this play appealed to me. My Name is Rachel Corrie is based on the true story of a 23-year-old American peace activist, who was killed by an Israeli bulldozer in the Gaza Strip while trying to protect a Palestinian home from demolition. Rachel Corrie’s own diary and emails home have been used as the basis of the script for a one-woman show.

More than once the diary style is reminiscent of another girl – a certain Anne Frank. One of Anne’s last diary entries, before she was dragged off to die in a concentration camp, reads, “It’s twice as hard for us young people to hold onto our opinions at a time when ideals are being shattered and destroyed . . .”

In the five years since Alan Rickman directed the first production at London’s Royal Court Theatre, My Name is Rachel Corrie has been a controversial play, banned in many cities for fear of offending Jewish communities. Often performances have been followed by discussions. I don’t find it a particularly political play, rather an intimate portrait of an idealistic young woman struggling to make sense of the world, and to put her beliefs into practice. Given the ongoing conflict in Israel however, it could easily come across as mere propaganda.

Fortunately, Stuart Young, who last year directed a documentary play about domestic violence (Hush),leads an excellent team in an unsentimental interpretation that never feels as if it is trying to manipulate our sympathies.

Nadya Shaw Bennett calmly makes the challenging role of Rachel her own, overcoming any temptation to milk it for excess emotion. She emphasises Rachel’s essential ordinariness – she could be your niece – yet conveys not naivety but down-to-earth honesty.

Whether it is the blue night of a bedroom, or the hot yellow sun of Gaza, the subtly shifting lighting by Martyn Roberts brings us into a cosy immediacy with Rachel; and the simple set, also by Roberts, is confidently utilised. A forbidding grey wall, the sharp angle of a bed with a red blanket tossed over it, and a pile of boxes, provide Bennett with scope for varied movement, while her monologue is supported by projections of lines from her writings, and pictures of people she mentions.

The play opens with Rachel waking in her own bedroom in Olympia, Washington, the fiery red blanket hinting at the carnage to come. She chats confidentially to us as she dresses and packs, leaving a privileged life to share the harsh realities of the strife-torn Middle East. Already she has visited Russia. Her ‘soul is nomadic’ she tells us; she is “jealous of migratory birds”.

We watch her grow closer to those in the Gaza Strip who give her hospitality, playing with their children, sharing their bewildered anguish at the senseless destruction of wells and greenhouses, admiring their “dignity in the face of the constant presence of death.”

“In spite of everything I still believe that people are good at heart,” writes Anne Frank, and Rachel too puzzles over “the kindness of people coupled with the wilful destruction of their lives.” She reads from and writes in her diary or laptop, chats to photos of her supportive but concerned parents, and sometimes addresses us directly. Bennett, parking her pen casually in her tied-back hair and gazing fearlessly into the audience, is cheerfully convincing and always in control.

We are aware, from the dates projected onto the bleak wall behind her, that the time of Rachel’s death is growing nearer, so it is a relief that her reminiscences of life in America are shot with humour. Bennett makes the most of Rachel’s amusing description of an encounter with an ex whose new girlfriend has left him, chanting gleefully, “Sunshine on the apples of my cheeks!” She fascinates with a bizarre episode involving melting ice-creams in a Dairy Queen, and she charms with a surprising little Russian song and dance.

Through all of this, we come to understand Rachel and care what happens to her. Yet good as Bennett’s performance is, for me the most moving moment is the last: Rachel Corrie herself in an old home movie, a small determined blonde, ten years old, making a speech about world hunger. The deaths of children are preventable, she insists passionately. It is shockingly credible that this child is to become the young woman who sacrifices her life for others.

Martyr, pawn, terrorist? Rachel did not see herself as an extremist. “It hurts me how awful we can allow the world to be,” she says. And puts her own life on hold, to do her share of fixing it up. Or at least drawing the world’s attention to its injustice.

This is, then, a universal human story. A young woman feels a compulsion to bear witness to suffering. Theatre gives us the chance to share her experience.
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