My Name Is Rachel Corrie, which sold out runs at both Royal Court theatres, was due to transfer to the New York Theatre Workshop this spring. Following discussions about the political content of the show, the American theatre “indefinitely postponed” its premiere in the US. Broadway’s loss is the West End’s gain; as a result of the postponement, the acclaimed production is running for five weeks at the Playhouse theatre. Matthew Amer was in the first night audience…
The majority of people who have heard of Rachel Corrie know that she was a non-violent peace protester and was killed when she placed herself between the house of a Palestinian family and a bulldozer. Her emails, published by The Guardian, let us into the heart of a young woman who wanted to end hurt and injustice. My Name Is Rachel Corrie gives us more than that, as Alan Rickman and Katharine Viner have edited 184 pages of Corrie’s writing, much from before she had even thought of going to Gaza, that give a fascinating insight into Corrie’s growth and character.
Megan Dodds, as Rachel, spends the entire performance alone on stage speaking directly to the audience, to her family, to her friends and to herself. Through her we take the journey from idealistic child, and free spirited writer, to the loss of innocence and death of naivety that occurs when she experiences the reality of the Gaza strip. We learn that Corrie, as poetic and artistic as she may be, can’t help but make logical lists to follow. We discover the love she had for her family and the vulnerability behind the idealism.
Hildegard Bechtler’s set is simple and effective. When we meet the youthful Corrie, it is in a bedroom, on the left hand side of the stage, which could be that of any student; clothes and belongings are scattered and the single back wall is covered with meaningful pictures. The rest of the stage is dominated by stark, crumbling Gaza strip wall, looming in the background hinting at Corrie’s future before taking centre stage itself.
Corrie’s story moves from the light-hearted machinations of youth, through moments of delightful humour, to tales – including the story of an attempt to collect a man’s body – that are truly harrowing. When she makes a list of possible options for her future that includes leaving Gaza, I found myself hoping against all hope that she might go.
At the finale, the audience was as quiet and taut with tension as I have ever heard in the West End.
My Name Is Rachel Corrie runs at the Playhouse theatre until 7 May.