Impressions of a powerful play being staged at the Playhouse Theatre Theatre – by Jamila Sherif
‘My Name is Rachel Corrie‘ is a chillingly poignant drama crafted from the journals, letters and e-mails of an incredible young woman. Rachel Corrie was a student, thinker, activist, dreamer, poet and writer whose life was brought to a premature end on March 16 2003 when she was killed by an Isreali bulldozer in the Gaza Strip as she tried bravely to prevent the demolition of Palestinian homes. I remember reading the e-mails she sent home from Gaza, serialised in the Guardian soon after her death and being filled with admiration and emotion by her conviction and incredible acts of resistance against the brutal Isreali military occupation. So many of us feel outrage at the continuing denial of Palestinian existence but how many of us are prepared to drop everything and actively support the Palestinians as she did.
Her death, killing or murder was closely followed by those of Tom Hurndell, 22 and James Miller, 34, in Gaza also by Israeli military forces. They were committed and self-less individuals who have become a source of inspiration and in their deaths they will be remembered as martyrs for the struggle for justice and humanity. However unsurprisingly for Israelis and some Americans, people such as Rachel Corrie are traitors. Alan Rickman, whose idea it was to transform Rachelís work into a drama says: ‘We were never going to paint Rachel as a golden saint or sentimentalise her, but we also need to face the fact that sheíd been demonised. We wanted to present a balanced portrait.’ And indeed ‘My Name is Rachel Corrie’ directed by Alan Rickman gives us a unique insight into the whole of Rachel Corrie.
The play is superbly performed by Megan Dodds, who’s electric and absorbing ninety minute solo performance takes us on a journey into the soul of Rachel Corrie – a profound soul that felt like a ‘migratory bird’ on a journey to find its purpose in the world. As Katherine Viner, who edited Rachel Corrieís writings into the drama, writes about her: ‘The material revealed a woman who was both ordinary and extraordinary: writing poems about her car, her friends, her grandmother, the wind: but also, from a strikingly young age, engaging in a passionately with the world trying to find her place in it.’ At the age of ten when other kids her age would have been writing adventure stories, Rachel wrote about how ‘children everywhere are suffering’ and how she wished to ìstop hunger by the year 2000′.
Rachel Corrie was born in Olympia Washington USA on April 10 1979 to a middle-class white American family and attended the liberal Evergreen state college in her home town. She had always been political but after September 11, she became more involved in community activism, organising peace demonstrations against war in Afghanistan and Iraq and supporting the work of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). This is an international organisation set up to support Palestinian non-violent resistance to Israeli military occupation and their activities include shielding and protecting Palestinians on the ground using their status as ‘internationals’. Rachel wanted to become more directly involved and do something she felt more meaningful. She decided to travel to Palestine and explained in her typical cutting style: ‘Iíve had this underlying need to go to a place and meet people who are on the other end of the portion of my tax money that goes to fund the US and other militaries.’
In Gaza she experienced the terrifying and grim reality of life under occupation. She was filled with a bitter-sweet emotion and great solidarity with the kindness and warmth of the Palestinian people while their very existence was daily under threat. She witnessed and tried to prevent the demolition of Palestinian home, greenhouses and wells. She used to stay overnight at Palestinian homes on the front line to stop their demolition. The e-mail correspondence between her and her parents is deeply moving. Her Dad was proud of her but naturally wished it ‘was someone else’s daughter’. With her mother she passionately discussed via e-mail Palestinian acts of violence and suicide, trying to convey to her the harsh reality on the ground so different from the media myths. Two weeks before her death her mother e-mail her: ‘There is a lot in my heart but I am having trouble with the words. Be safe, be well.’
The play is a true celebration and memory of Rachel Corrie’s short but full life that was so tragically and cruelly brought to an end. This piece of drama achieves the highest purpose of theater, transcending from art and entertainment to a powerful, political message for truth and justice.
My Name is Rachel Corrie is showing at the Playhouse Theatre, Northumberland Avenue, Embankment until May 16th.