Fourteen years have passed since 23-year-old Rachel Corrie was crushed to death by Israeli bulldozers in Gaza. The American activists, along with other members of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), were taking part in nonviolent direct action to protect the home of a Palestinian family from demolition when the activist from Washington was killed.
Since her untimely death on the Rafah border crossing in 2003, Corrie’s free-spirited attitude to life has been the inspiration for international solidarity movements, non-violent resistance as well as plays and books celebrating her humanity and bravery.
My Name is Rachel Corrie, being showed at the Young Vic in London, is based on the emails and diary entries of the pro-Palestinian activist, which first premiered at London’s Royal Court in 2005. The play was originally put together by the late Alan Rickman and Katharine Viner, now the editor of the Guardian.
Unsurprisingly the plays reproduction has come under strong criticism from Pro-Israeli groups. Fury at the revival of the play has stirred all kinds of controversy such that supporters of Israel in the UK are piling pressure on the Young Vic for staging the play. The Vic’s artistic director David Lan, who is Jewish, felt compelled to come to the theatre’s defence saying: “Gaza is a wound to the planet from which so many people are suffering.”
Pro-Israeli organisations have even threatened to leverage the £1.7 million pubic grant given to the Young Vic to ensure that it takes a more “balanced” position when it comes to Israel. Lan however has insisted that artistic expressions are useful to promote dialogue saying: “We welcome and hope to encourage as wide a discussion of this terrible situation as possible and anything that keeps Gaza at the front of our consciousness is to be valued.”
Aside from the nuisance of having Pro-Israeli activists shoving propaganda leaflets smearing the memory of Corrie towards you at the entrance of the theatre, the hour and half long immersion into Corrie’s mind is a memorable experience.
The play brilliantly darts through the diaries of Corrie from her early teens through to the period of her untimely death. Directed by an award winning director, Josh Roche, and wonderfully performed by British actor Erin Doherty, viewers are exposed to a visceral representation of the brutality of Israeli occupation seen through the eyes of an activist searching for her place in life.
Doherty’s astonishingly skilful performance of Corrie brings to life defining moments in the campaigner’s personal journey as she grapples with her own sense of privilege in contrasted with the indignity and poverty she saw in Gaza. If nothing else, the play powerfully captures the inner tensions of Corrie who felt a deep sense of responsibility over her own country’s unquestioned support for Israel.
The play is emotionally rousing given the very nature of diary entries, which are intended by its author to be an honest representation of ones thoughts and feelings unpolluted by polemics. Corrie appeared deeply troubled by the constant dehumanisation of Muslims and Palestinians; her conversations with her father, which are including in the the play, shed light on America’s own troubling assumptions about the world in the post 9/11 world.
The added punch to the play and the performance of Doherty is made all the more incredible by the setting; a background made up from the barest material, empty colourless plywood panels on the floor and the wall. The centrepiece is a tall wooden stand that appears to stand as a representation of Israel’s Separation Wall. It required an exceptional actor playing an exceptional person to make the experience so emotionally jarring.
Rachel Corrie’s legacy will continue to inspire thousands in campaigns against political oppression and this play, like its predecessor, has certainly reached the level of being “the irrepressible political voice” of the young campaigner from Olympia.