Aalst (4 stars)

Tramway, Glasgow and on tour

NEW TRANSLATION

If you like your theatre cosy, comfortable and reassuring, don’t go within a mile of Aalst. A collaboration between Pol Heyvaert’s Belgian Victoria company and the National Theatre of Scotland, Aalst is the harrowing true-life tale of a couple who checked into a hotel in 1999 and, in the course of a few days, murdered their two young children. It is horrible and horribly compelling.

It is theatre as car crash, a grim examination of the case that uses the original language of the court, filtered through Duncan McLean’s vivid, unsentimental translation. Echoing the legal process, the script jumps back and forth, forever returning to the scene of the crime for further forensic detail. If you had the choice you’d look away in horror as the children’s murders are described with simple, factual precision, giving more information than you thought you needed to know.

The brilliance of Heyvaert’s production, however, is that it’s not merely pornography for the privileged, presenting instead the beginnings of an explanation of how such a gruesome crime was committed. Our instinct is to write off the parents, Cathy and Michael Delaney, as monsters whose abhorrent behaviour can only be described as evil. Yet, under the cross questioning of an unseen lawyer (the voice of Gary Lewis) on a nondescript set of man-made fibres, they reveal themselves to be two terribly damaged people operating under principles which, however warped, follow their own logic.

Speaking into microphones as they respond to the god-like questioning, Kate Dickie and David McKay are nothing short of brilliant as the parents. Their gaunt faces, moist eyes and gauche honesty show us the vulnerable children behind the callous criminals. Without diminishing the awfulness of the deed, they make us see that society let them down long before they returned the compliment. If you have the stomach, it’s a show you shouldn’t miss.

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