Robin Sivapalan reviews My Name Is Rachel Corrie, now showing at the Playhouse Theatre London
It is three years since American International Solidarity Movement activist Rachel was deliberately ploughed down by an Israeli Defence Force bulldozer in Gaza while trying to stop Palestinian houses from being demolished. The ISM have now disbanded. Palestinian homes are still being demolished. And Rachel Corrie’s diaries have been adapted into a performance monologue.
It is a genuinely moving play, and Rachel Corrie’s life and outlook is inspiring. The title comes from video footage of the activist’s first speech made at the age of 12. It was an articulate cri de coeur, setting out her commitment to contend with the gross inequity of world hunger and poverty.
The actress playing Rachel, Megan Dodd, talks about her years at college where her political life was focussed on community action and local peace activism. She wryly acknowledges the clichés of her earlier escapades, finding a papier-mâché dove’s head among the detritus of the teenage room which is being packed up as she head off to the stark concrete bullet-marked enviornment of Palestine.
We become familiar with the quirks of Rachel’s personality, her idiosyncrasies, her humour and vitality. We also chart the formation of a sensitive and outraged politics of committed solidarity.
If it is fair to describe her as being somewhat ingenuous on her arrival, it is more necessary to testify to a life story of a truly brave activist who had, by the time of her murder, come to acutely understand and share the daily injustices perpetrated by Israel on the Palestinian people. There was no wriggle room for anyone listening honestly.
Rachel Corrie was no foolhardy aspiring martyr: she was a young woman with a doting family who was unable to conscionably abnegate her responsibility to change the world. She had to do something.
There are arguments about the effectiveness and wisdom of dramatising the death of an activist for the commercial theatre. At best the play is explicitly a call to action. But potentially it could be a cathartic drama, salving the conscience of its audience. Certainly, much of the audience will have come to the evening as part of their regular regime of indiscriminate critic’s choice consumption. Equally, I easily shifted seven Workers’ Liberty Two Nations, Two States pamphlets.
A demonstration for Palestine was held on the Saturday the show closed. The numbers on that demo could not really have exceeded 2,000. Those people stood in a rainy solidarity in Trafalgar Square to the usual assortment of political speeches (many of which only served to highlightl the political weaknesses of the British left). Attendance over the course of the play’s run must’ve been higher...
Having already completed an acclaimed run at the Royal Court the play will now transfer to Broadway amid much anticipation over the impact that it will have.
An Iranian comrade speaking at a recent AWL London meeting on Iran repeatedly insisted on the duty of socialists to be prepared to take direct action in the face of war. I think our capacity and willingness to physically intervene in struggles is something we ought to seriously reflect on and debate. Rachel Corrie’s life stands as an example of someone prepared to do precisely that.