Everyone is welcome in Claire’s community choir: refugees, ex-offenders, a man with a temper. “We’re just one big crazy tribe,” she beams, unwittingly welcoming The Boy who is about to commit a mass murder.

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Catherine McClements as Claire. Photos Daniel J Grant

David Greig’s play The Events opened at the State Underground Theatre on Friday night and tells the story of a vicar’s post-traumatic stress as she grapples to find an appropriate response to the massacre of her precious community. The Scottish playw right wrote The Events in response to the 2011 massacre in Norway. Devastatingly, as demonstrated by the recent tragedy in Margaret River, the story is still as relevant today.

Black Swan State Theatre Company’s artistic director Clare Watson directed this production of The Events in Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne and for its Perth debut she paired it with The Assassins, the Sondheim musical about presidential assassinations in the US (reviewed here)The Events‘ gut-wrenching intimacy is light years from the satirical commentary of Sondheim’s Assassins but there are obvious links too; the storytelling role of music, the portrayal of disenfranchised misfits and the human need for belonging. Not to mention guns.

Designer Geoff Cobham’s minimalist set used a timber floor, choir risers, a piano and an urn to evoke the church hall.  The rest of the scenes were created through Cobham’s array of ‘work light’ fittings hanging above the stage, cleverly switching the atmosphere from the natural lighting of a rehearsal room to flourescent prison lights, flashing nightclub or a doctor’s office.

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McClements with Johnny Carr as The Boy

The vicar’s search to understand the why behind The Boy’s actions was obsessive and isolating. “I want to find (evil’s) source and lay it to rest, then I can sleep,” she told her long-suffering partner Katrina. Along the way she swung between the roles of judge, executioner and saviour. Her struggle to find black and white clarity within her all-embracing sepia toned worldview was compelling.

Catherine McClements was outstanding as the vicar, warm as the cups of tea that she cradled but brittle as the ceramic when it was smashed on the floor. The tension she maintained from her swallowed tears in the opening scene to the final climatic prison meeting was utterly enthralling.

She was well-matched by Johnny Carr who played The Boy plus other cameos including Katrina, The Boy’s dad, a psychologist, journalist and friend. Carr’s was the master of subtlety; a slight change of accent or gaze carried powerful intensity.

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Johnny Carr as The Boy.

The choir was integral to the casting, functioning as Greek chorus, the community choir and soundtrack. Each performance features a different choir and on opening night the ensemble was Rhythmos, a young and diverse group of young singers based at Curtin University. They sang with commitment and enjoyment and the odd glimpse of nervousness contributed to the authenticity.

Greig’s finely honed script was littered with motifs – the tribe, the tea cup, theology – and also humour. We meet Dave the shamanic healer from Fremantle and the psychologist who prefers ’empathy impaired’ to ‘evil’. His deeply thoughtful play, brought to life by a strong cast and creative team has found theatre’s sweet spot where brokenness and beauty meet.

Claire’s quest brings up more questions than answers. Eventually she returns to what she knows: the choir. The big crazy tribe where despite it all everyone is still welcome. The final song ‘We’re All Here’ was a reminder that healing can spark from the shared connection of music and community.

The Events continues until 8th July and later in the month will tour to Geelong, Tamworth, Lismore, Wollongong.