It begins with a blank stage. A far wall covered with coat hangers. Two young people fill the space with a chalk drawing of a floor map of their school. All is calm and charming. The school they're talking about is their own, the best in the area, they say. It's the school where, in 2004, 777 children were held captive over three days by Chechen terrorists.
Us/Them is inevitably hard-hitting and thought-provoking. It sounds like a complex, distressing prospect for tweens and teens - but that's exactly the appeal. Instead of following the copious media coverage, Us/Them filter the horror of a hostage attack through a child's eye view. The whole experience - bafflement, alarm, anger, fear - is recapitulated through the children's perspective, but with the lethargic calm of a child who accepts what's happening to them.
Just two young actors take us though that experience, humorously discussing the difficulties in not being able to pee for 20 hours or vividly conjuring up imaginary rescues staged by 'brave' fathers who never come. This is a levelled, unemotional and and frank play exploring what went on in the school gymnasium, from the slowly rising death toll (that would eventually end in the deaths of 330, 186 of them children) to the conversations held by the terrorists, without ever showing something gory or visually disturbing. It's deeply moving.
Directed by Gytha Parmentier and Roman Van Houtven, this frank, unflinching and often funny production that explores children's reactions and coping methods, and demonstrates how children discuss pain and have perpetual optimising even in the worst circumstances. This horrific topic is made palatable for young audiences. It's a must-see play.
From the Brussel's leading theatre company for young audiences, it's little surprise that they sold out the Edinburgh Fringe before coming to the National's Dorfman Theatre. Take your children.
Suitable for ages 12+
|What||Us/Them, National Theatre review:|
South Bank, London, SE1 9PX | MAP
|Nearest tube||Waterloo (underground)|
16 Jan 17 – 18 Feb 17, Performance times TBC
|Price||£15 - £35|
|Website||Click here to book via the National Theatre|