Interview: Catherine McClements

This week NORPA presents The Events featuring Catherine McClements

The minister, the choir and the boy with the semi-automatic rifle

This week NORPA presents The Events featuring Catherine McClements (Wentworth, Rush and Tangle) and local choir Vox Caldera. The play was the sleeper hit of the 2013 Edinburgh Festival. The play tells the story of Clare, a minister and director of a local hall and director of the local choir. Everything changes when a disaffected young man enters the hall and opens fire with a semi-automatic – the community and the ideals that formed it are blown apart. This is a powerful dialogue with the alienated, a lost generation, and perhaps with the enemy within.

Catherine McClements spoke with The Echo.

Wow, this is such a timely piece. Can you tell me a little about the history of the play? How it was created and when?

The play was a collaboration with a Scottish company and a Norwegian company in reaction to the terrible tragedy perpetrated by Anders Brevick on the island in Norway. However it is not specifically about this event but contemplates the phenomenon of mass shooting that is now very much part of a modern consciousness.

It has been performed all over the world since 2013 including a special performance for the survivors of Utoya.

How does violence in the play affect the cohesion of community that your character has established?

Well I think the play celebrates the strength of all community and through this very idea we can withstand tragedy and violence. By contemplating all the various reactions, questions and thoughts around such bewildering actions perhaps we can look it in the eye with less fear and brutality.

What are the questions that we or ‘you’ ask of a perpetrator of violence?

The play asks ‘why’ in all its incarnations.

This show must have had a profound effect on a lot of people. What has the response been?

I think people are very moved by the piece. Not the least because we have a different community choir onstage each night and I think their presence gives the play warmth, humanity and joy. The music is emotional and fun and so is the play actually.

Is it possible to have compassion towards perpetrators? Your character is a woman of ‘the cloth’ and in a sense I guess that’s the tool she has. How confronting is that for you?

I think the play is crying out for us to live with compassion and a deep understanding. That revenge is failure. I was taken by how the justice system in Norway treated Anders Brevick with all the responsibility of the law. They listened when he complained of minor mistreatment in jail and corrected the situation. To treat him inhumanely is in a way to become like him.

How did you approach playing this? Did the constant barrage of male violence against women and children play into informing you and the cast members?

There is a part of the show that I particularly struggled with and in fact we cut it from one of the seasons of the show. I’m still a bit uncomfortable about this part of the play and am always very interested in what the audience make of it. I think though David Grieg is exploring all sides of the coin and how we do have to listen to ideas we may find unpalatable so we don’t dismiss our fellow humans.

Can things change? Does the play touch on this? Because right now it just seems to be getting worse. Do you touch on ideas of hope or transformation?

They are changing! Surely. Even this focus on violence against women shines a harsh blistering light on something that has always been with us, hidden in the shadows.

Do you think the massive social change that began really with the suffragette will take years and years and years to become not change but the norm?

I don’t think the play focuses on the fear, anxiety and anger that men are taking out on women as the social fabric changes but it does explore some harsh realities of a disenfranchised life. I think the hope of the play is for us to ask  ‘Why?’ and to contemplate and deliberate the answers as a community. And to laugh and sing and to have cups of tea together.

The Events is presented by NORPA and is at Lismore City Hall on Friday and Saturday at 7.30pm. Tix $20–54 at or 1300 066 772.

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