The Scotsman--in promotion of the Edinburgh Fringe appearance of My Name is Rachel Corrie--gets Alan Rickman on the record about the show for the first time in months.
With a commercial production finally happening Off-Broadway this October, Rickman is naturally playing "above the fray," but still revisits the past a bit and makes an eloquent case for the play.
Most pertinent quotes:
On the morning we meet, the headlines are dominated by the crisis in the Middle East, so the issues raised by this passionate, poignant piece of theatre could not be more timely. "This terrible situation simply proves that the play needs to be seen, and to go on being seen," [Rickman] says quietly, "because it comes from a very human perspective and it's not about taking sides at all."
Does he not find it ironic, then, that the original production, at New York Theater Workshop, was "postponed" by artistic director James Nicola, "because of the edgy situation", citing the fact that the prime minister, Ariel Sharon, had recently slipped into a coma and Hamas had been elected? Surely, ironically, the theatre was taking sides? "I don't think so," replies Rickman, who makes no secret of the fact that he is politically involved, a Labour party supporter.
"The real irony for me was that we had a situation where two independent theatres were in some kind of conflict, which, given the world we are living in, was a great pity. I hope that it's resolved now." Nonetheless, when the play goes back to New York, it will be to another theatre, with new producers.
Rickman was quoted as saying that the cancellation of the production was due to "censorship born out of fear", after Nicola revealed the vehement response of Jewish friends and advisers to the play, some of whom regarded it as "a piece of anti-Israeli agit-prop". "Well, I had to say that about censorship, didn't I?" replies Rickman in measured tones, circumflexing an eyebrow. "We can only guess at the sort of political pressure they were under. I don't feel anything but understanding of their problems. In any case, one of the new producers, Dena Hammerstein, is Jewish herself. Who knows? More rocks may still be thrown in our path, because the subject-matter is a hot potato."
Nicola's decision was condemned by Harold Pinter, Tom Stoppard and Vanessa
Redgrave, a longtime supporter of Palestinian rights. Now Rickman only wants the play to be seen by as many people as possible. "There are times when a piece of work attaches itself to you in a very deep way. For this important play to be turned into a personality thing would be inappropriate; that's why it's not about me."
When I saw the production, I veered between wanting to shake Rachel for her naivety and wanting to embrace this "scattered and deviant and loud" young woman for her intelligence, spirit, honesty and courage.
"I'm so glad you felt that, because that's exactly how I hope audiences will feel," responds Rickman. "This isn't a play about Palestine or Israel, it's about being a citizen of the world."
"The crucial thing for me about the play is that it corrects the slanders on the internet about Rachel and the way she has been demonised - such as, 'Did you know she was a member of Hamas?'..."
Indeed, the argument that Corrie needed to be postponed because of the maelstrom of Sharon's coma and Hamas' election, seems quaint, and even more foolish, by the measure of today's crisis. Political theatre that does not sieze the moment is irrelevant theatre.
By the way, I never noticed Stoppard taking a stand on this before. Anyone else? Welcome, yes, but surprising considering this odd diatribe from around that time. (He is a conservative at heart, after all...)