Kate Dickie & Pol Heyvaert

Beyond the news

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Kate Dickie, fresh from acclaimed film Red Road, and director Pol Heyvaert talk to Steve Cramer about a story of child murder without the media sensation

Whenever a murder occurs, particularly that of a child, there’s often an understandable outcry of grief, sometimes fuelled by sensational media coverage. We can name these unfortunate children as if we ourselves knew them. As part of the news coverage, it’s easy enough to uncover all manner of information, even down to the heartrending and sometimes grisly manner in which the children died, yet among all this flood of material, do we pause, beyond a simple howl for revenge on murderers or overworked social workers to examine the causes of these horrors?

That seems to be the point of Aalst, the new NTS project in collaboration with Belgian company Victoria. This play, originally produced in Belgium in response to the true case of a couple who checked into a hotel and a week later were discovered to have murdered their children, seeks to go beyond the sensation and find a story with broader implications for our culture. ‘It was very exceptional, the whole court procedure was filmed, and I was allowed to see the tape through official channels,’ explains director Pol Heyvaert of a Duncan McLean script, which translates much of the original trial transcript. ‘With things like that, it’s the talk of the week, but after that week it’s gone. You get plenty of details, but you’re left with the feeling “what really happened?” You’re given so many details that you’re kind of overwhelmed, it’s like you’ve been beaten up - you need to know why.’

But beyond all the sensationalism, it’s not as if the solutions are simple. Heyvaert speaks of both a state and individual culpability in such events. ‘It wasn’t just the state that prosecuted but also the owner of the hotel, because of the effect it had on her life. She felt that there was something wrong, but she didn’t do anything at the time. So she fell into a huge depression afterwards, because she felt she’d failed as a member of society. I can understand that very well. I feel a bit the same, because everybody sees people like this every day. I hope Aalst is critical of society, but it’s also critical of the private person.’

Kate Dickie stresses the social position of the characters as being crucial to understanding the piece, for the perpetrators of the crime were, although somewhat marginalised, and suffering from histories of abuse, functioning members of society. ‘The reports on them were that they were ordinary people, they weren’t psychos you’d run a mile from. People aren’t that interested in folk like this until something terrible happens. Social work is stretched, so folk are trying to do the job of ten, and things like this go under the radar until it’s too late.’

Dickie comments that the ‘less is more’ philosophy of film acting that she’s just been practising is not as different in this theatre piece as you’d expect. ‘It’s not a sensationalist script, it just tells what happened. You don’t have to do a lot with it, because the weight is all there. I think it would detract from it if you tried to do too much, it’s about the real words spoken, and there’s no way the audience can escape from what we’re saying. We’re forced into having to listen to what’s said. It’s very unphysical, I hardly move, but you’re exhausted by the end of it, just because of what you’ve got to say.’

Tramway, Glasgow, Wed 21-Sat 31 Mar, then touring

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