Us/Them turns tragedy on its head

After sold-out shows at Edinburgh Fringe and the National Theatre in London, the Auckland Arts Festival brings Us/Them to New Zealand’s shores for a short run until March 25th at the Q Theatre. Us/Them is the brainchild of director Carly Wijs based on the real-life event of the Beslan school siege in 2004 during which 1200 people were held hostage in the school gym for three days and ultimately lead to the death of 334 people.

The performance turns tragedy on its head recreating the events with dramatic movement, dry comedy and spoken word on a near-empty stage populated only with string and balloons which as the drama develops go on to represent something much more sinister in nature. A highlight of the performance is how the actors move creatively around the space, dodging the strings and sliding along the floor.

The two actors Gytha Parmentier and Roman Van Houtven portray two children caught up in the hostage situation, they recreate their experiences in the only way they know how – what they had learned at school up to that day. They play and draw to show the audience the horror of what happened over the three days in a childlike and absurdist manner, doing calculations about the number of dead on the blackboard and even striking funny poses to recreate actions. This ultimately shows Us/Them as a children’s play that deals with the very adult topics of terrorism, death and fear, represented in a way that is appropriate for all ages.

Muted yelling sits beneath loud blasts of music, it starts to become hard to follow and chaotic. It soon emerges that this is a metaphor for the terrifying and frenzied emotions of the hostages and there are moments where you don’t know whether you should laugh or grieve, but at the end of it you’re left sitting comfortably somewhere in the middle, with more empathy and a little less confusion.

See Us/Them at Q Theatre until 25 March as part of Auckland Arts Festival.

Reviewed by Lindsey Catherine