One welcomes My Name Is Rachel Corrie to the West End with mixed feelings. It is great that it means more exposure for this moving 90-minute monologue, pieced together from the journals and e-mails of the 23-year-old US activist who in 2003 was killed by an Israeli bulldozer.
By rights, though, Alan Rickman's pitch-perfect Royal Court production, featuring an incandescent Megan Dodds, should be playing at the New York Theatre Workshop, where it was to have opened on 22 March. Yet because of "the very edgy situation" created by Ariel Sharon's illness and Hamas's victory in the Palestinian elections, it was felt that the play needed "contextualising", with post-show discussions and perhaps the addition of a companion piece with an opposing point of view. When the Royal Court refused, the production was "indefinitely postponed", in what looks like an act of self-censorship. This is troubling because the NYTW is a liberal institution, which has nurtured the writing of Tony Kushner and presented the US premieres of Caryl Churchill's last plays.
My Name Is Rachel Corrie never pretends that it is an even-handed account of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We see the world through the eyes and prose of a skinny college kid who was equally passionately idealistic and self-absorbed, admirable and exasperating. The play is a self-portrait; a chronicle of a death foretold; a tribute to a courageous, compassionate spirit; and an eye-witness report of the horror of life in Gaza, where she went as a member of the International Solidarity Movement of non-violent resistance to the occupation.
The play does not try to turn her into a secular saint. At times you feel a tangle of admiration and irritation at her naivety, yet you are grateful that someone was prepared to act on their beliefs. Corrie's concern for suffering humanity was precocious. At 10, she spoke at her school Conference on World Hunger and is captured on video, seen at the end of the play. The notion that she was a self-regarding atrocity tourist is outrageous. She was acutely aware that, unlike her new Palestinian friends, she could leave. She chose not to. Given that she had gone to the Middle East to meet people who were "on the receiving end" of tax dollars and that it was an US-made bulldozer that killed her, it will be a tragic irony if her home country does not allow her a hearing.
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