David Greig caused a flurry earlier this year when it was reported that in between rehearsals for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in the West End he had written a new play about Anders Breivik and the Utoya shootings.
The show, which opened this week at the Fringe and will transfer to London's Young Vic in October, is a far subtler and more compassionate thing than that lurid headline suggests. Set in an unnamed village it deals with the aftermath of an atrocity, in which a young gunman walked into a local choir rehearsal and opened fire.
There are only two actors on stage. Neve McIntosh, who plays Claire, the liberal parish priest who runs the choir and Rudi Dharmalingham, who, in a quietly impressive performance, plays everyone else - from Claire's partner Catriona to her psychiatrist to the gunman himself. The rest of the bare stage, dressed to look like a village hall, is filled with a real community choir who provide an evocative musical backdrop throughout, from The Messiah to a choral reworking of Dizzee Rascal's "Bonkers" via Norwegian folk song. Somehow it works.
A year on from the shooting Claire, who hid from the gunman in the music room and saw one of her singers killed at point blank range, is struggling to understand what she has seen, let alone to forgive it. She has lost her soul and in an effort to get it back, she becomes obsessed by the gunman, interviewing his family, friends, the far-right politicians he associated himself with and, in the final, thrilling scene, the man himself. Was he mad or was he evil? Or could it be that he was simply "angry and had a gun"?
Piecing together these viewpoints, Greig attempts a picture of both the man behind the atrocity and his victims. We also hear from "The Boy" himself - self-aggrandising theories of warrior life and protecting one's tribe that recall Breivik's manifestos. There are echoes too of Dunblane, the London bombings and Columbine, though in a bid not to be about any one "event", Greig's script can be irritatingly gnomic at times. Similarly, Ramin Gray's Brechtian flourishes - getting members of the choir to read lines from a script down a microphone might be an alienation too far. But there are flashes of warmth and even wit, here and thanks to the superb choir, the play builds to a rare emotional pitch. It is their singing which has the last word on the power of community to overcome even the darkest deed.
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