Us/Them – Dublin Theatre Festival – Review
by Lesley-Ann Whelan
Pavilion Theatre, 8-133 October 2019
On the 1st September 2004, the Beslan school siege started on the first day of the school term and lasted for 3 days, where 1,100 people were taken hostage, 777 of them children. By the end of the siege, 334 people were dead. The siege began when a group of armed Islamic militants mostly from Chechnya, occupied School Number One in the town of Beslan, on the border of Russia and Chechnya.
How do you tell this story to a young audience without the horror overwhelming them? How do you process such an event? And how do the survivors move on with their lives after living through this experience? These are the questions that Bronks Art House’s production of Us/Them attempts to answer. The Brussels based company are at the forefront of creating performing arts for young people.
Us/Them retells the events of the siege through the eyes of two nameless, fictional children, a girl and a boy. Told through a child’s perspective and with childhood exuberance, humour, play and incredible physical theatre, the production is not merely a tragedy but a celebration of the survival of the spirit.
The children begin by recreating normality, mapping out the school on the floor with coloured chalk and talking about the balloon ceremony that heralds the beginning of the school year. But as their story unfolds, these innocent things take on a new form, the layout of the school showing how claustrophobic a thousand people in the gymnasium must have been, the balloons suddenly becoming bombs.
The play explores the idea of ‘othering’, as the children repeat the myths they have heard about the people who live across the border, where the women all have moustaches and the men are all paedophiles, a word the children don’t understand. Whereas their fathers are all dashing heroes who are furiously trying to reach them to save them from the terrorists. However, that isn’t the truth of the story.
The play uses Brechtian techniques to remove the audience from the true horror of what is being retold on stage to good effect such as breaking the fourth wall, use of songs and music, humour and a minimal set. As they count the dead, the children make it into a mathematical equation, dividing hostages to terrorists on the blackboard.
Us/Them is a remarkable piece of theatre. Cast members Parmentier and Van Houtven use their strong dance background to create dynamic physical theatre and to completely embody their child characters without becoming caricatures. The show runs until Sunday in the Pavilion Dun Laoghaire. Unmissable.
Cast and Creative Team –
Directed by Carly Wijs
Cast: Gytha Parmentier and Roman Van Houtven