Revival for Alan Rickman and Kath Viner’s controversial docu-drama about pro-Palestinian activist Rachel Corrie
This is a play that’s heavy with emotional and political weight, even before the lights go down. ‘My Name is Rachel Corrie’ was crafted by the much-mourned Alan Rickman – with Guardian editor Katharine Viner – from the diaries of the titular young activist, who died while campaigning alongside Palestinians in Gaza.
That it never feels reverent or po-faced is due to the goofy wit of Rachel Corrie’s diaries, and an equally offbeat, compellingly cocksure performance from Erin Doherty. She plays Corrie as an outsider, shot through with the rangy determination of her anarchist heroes.
The story’s political baggage is harder to defuse. Protestors from the Zionist Federation wait outside the theatre, ready to argue with the characterisation of Corrie as a hero felled by Israel’s tanks while defending Palestinian homes. They’d prefer to see her as an idealistic puppet of extremists, who died in an unfortunate accident in a military zone. Yet one of the things that makes Corrie’s voice so interesting is her self-awareness, and the way she probes into her privileged role as an American outsider.
Director Josh Roche tackles the controversy that has followed this play since its 2005 Royal Court premiere by using a deliberately DIY approach to stress that everything we hear is from Rachel’s own fevered perspective: Doherty plays her own backing tracks on a tinny boombox and slides coloured gels into the stage lights at the side of the stage. It’s almost like she’s a precocious kid, putting on a show for mom and pop. This sense partly sidesteps the problematic absence of real Palestinian voices. But it’s damaging in other ways. Young female activists are so often portrayed as precocious, adorably earnest – rather than as committed and dangerous as the young male soldiers Corrie faces down. Giving the last word to video footage of Corrie as a smiling young blonde child only reinforces this impression.
I left with a head humming with confusion, trying to understand whether this witty, endlessly imaginative activist’s words are a vital insight into the politics surrounding Israel, or a seductive distraction from its complex realities. I’m not sure this production’s framing does enough to examine these issues, but the power of Corrie’s words is undeniable.