When people think of Rachel Corrie, if they recognise the name at all, they probably think of her death. A member of the non-violent International Solidarity Movement, she was killed by an Israeli bulldozer while trying to prevent Palestinian homes from being destroyed. She was just 23.
My Name Is Rachel Corrie is an arresting piece of theatre that concentrates on her life, her personality, her hopes. It reclaims her name from the headlines and presents a portrait of an idealistic, likeable and intelligent young woman.
The production has been compiled from Corrie’s diaries and correspondence; her writing co-edited by Alan Rickman and the Guardian’s Features Editor, Katharine Viner. By solely drawing on her own words, they have created a layered and recognisable human being – funny, nave, goofy, profound – rather than a dramatic cipher, a martyr figure. Also, crucially, Rickman and Viner have created something that works on the stage, that flows and builds, and engages the attention; even with the best intentions their efforts would have counted for little if this were not the case.
Originally produced at the Royal Court, the play was supposed to transfer to the US. But recently the American production was ‘indefinitely postponed’; this may be no great loss for Londoners who didn’t manage to see its earlier sell-out run, but it’s still surprising. This is as humane and moving a piece of theatre as you could come across; yet in the States there are some who still regard Corrie as a contentious figure, as a kind of traitor. It speaks volumes about the spread of censorship in the Land of the Free that people weren’t even given the opportunity to make up their own minds.
As Corrie, Megan Dodds, alone on stage for the entirety of the show, does a phenomenal job. Hers is a warm, likeable performance that captures Corrie’s passion, her earnestness but also her ordinariness. With the wrong person in the role the whole exercise would have fallen apart; thankfully Dodds is the right person. Corrie’s energy, her frustration that she couldn’t right the world single-handedly, is palpable.
The production is not without its holes. The question of why a woman working in a mental health centre in Olympia, Washington decides to join the ISM and jet out to Gaza, for me, remained unanswered. She was politically-minded from a young age and a school-trip to Russia clearly opened her eyes to problems occurring outside her home country, but if there was a deeper motivation it’s not really evident. In limiting itself to her personal writings the play limits itself to some degree. It would have been interesting to discover more about what moved her, what inspired her.
Hildegard Bechtler’s set is also unnecessarily elaborate. The bullet-scarred buildings and photo-studded bedroom wall add little to the piece. Dodds’ performance and the power of her material would have been sufficient without them.
Though My Name Is Rachel Corrie is ostensibly about life rather than death, the facts of when and how she died shadow everything on stage. Even the most casual of exchanges is shot through with a deep poignancy, especially the concerned messages from her parents and Corrie’s evident fear and distress over the worsening situation in Gaza.
Some people inevitably will find the play and the person it depicts nave and hard to get a handle on, but the openness in how she is presented here at least allows for that judgement to be made on how she lived, not just on how she died.