Us/Them by Carly Wijs
Auckland Arts Festival
Rangatira, Q Theatre
Thirteen years ago, a group of armed Chechnyan terrorists took more than 1200 people hostage at a Russian school in Beslan. The ordeal lasted more than 50 hours and, by the end, 334 people were dead, including 186 children.
The horror of those days will never be forgotten and remembering is painful. But this challenge has been thoughtfully and beautifully overcome in a powerful play coming to Auckland Arts Festival in March called Us/Them.
Directed by Dutch director Carly Wijs and told from the point of view of two children tangled up in the terror, the show was commissioned by BRONKS, a Belgian theatre company that specialises in work for young audiences.
“The challenge for Us/Them is whether it is possible to make a children’s theatre piece that talks intelligently, meaningfully and sensitively about terrorism,” Ms Wijs said.
Us/Them enjoyed a sell-out run to rave reviews at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2016 and won a Scotsman Fringe First Award before transferring and also selling out at the National Theatre, London, this year.
It was Ms Wijs’s eight-year-old son who provided the inspiration.
“He saw a news item about the attacks on the Westgate mall in Nairobi and I was struck by the matter-of-fact, very distanced way that he spoke about what happened. I was interested in how different his response was to the emotional way an adult would react to such news,” she said.
The play begins with a boy and a girl chalking out a map of their town and school on a stage that looks like a haunted playroom. As if they’re giving a special talk, they tell the audience the story. There’s no crying, nor screaming. Facts are scribbled on a blackboard and string marks the tripwires of the terrorists, their points of views are completely unfiltered and innocent, sometimes even humorous.
The result is an exploration of the entirely individual way children cope with traumatic situations.
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