My Name is Rachel Corrie (4 stars)

My Name is Rachel Corrie

Verbatim theatre, while powerful, can also feel very ephemeral, bringing a sense of immediacy to performance through eye-witness accounts of events, but without much of a life beyond that particular moment in history. Ros Philips’ production of My Name is Rachel Corrie, first staged in 2005, is given added poignancy by the ongoing stalemate in the Middle East and the current civil suit being brought by the Corrie family against the state of Israel.

The affecting true story of a middle class college student from Washington State, who died beneath an Israeli bulldozer while acting as a human shield in Gaza in 2003, derives much of its power from the script, skilfully shaped from Corrie’s own diaries, emails and writings by Alan Rickman and Katharine Viner. At first glimpse, Rachel (played here by Mairi Phillips) is as angry, awkward, confused, even solipsistic, as any Middle American teenager. She rejects her cosseted upbringing because she longs to write’ and ‘to see’. But as her activism intensifies and she uses a hiatus in her studies to travel to the Occupied Territories, her engagement with the complex politics of the Middle East deepens, and through her writings the intricacies of life under occupation come sharply into focus.

Despite occasional awkward passages in the text in which Rachel is required to give a background précis to the conflict, the character never comes across as preaching, indeed is openly self-effacing about her status as a well-intentioned Westerner, passionate about her new friends in Gaza, but free to leave at any time. Mairi Phillips gives a wonderfully compelling performance, filling every corner of Neil Haynes’ claustrophobic set, and investing Rachel with an appealing sincerity, warmth and dynamism that makes her looming fate all the more poignant.

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, until Sat 20 Mar

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