Aalst Review

Rating (out of 5)
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National Theatre of Scotland
Pol Heyveart (director), David Overend (assistant director), Duncan Maclean (writer), Paul Claydon (Lighting Designer and Company Stage Manager)
Kate Dickie, Gary Lewis, David McKay

'Knowing is what we do to other people
when they're not there', Adam Phillips reminds us. This statement hits
particularly hard when 'other people' turn out to have murdered their
own children. The thought of such crimes can turn stomachs even among
those of us with no offspring of our own, while the red-topped press
feed off our individual and collective prurience whenever any such case
comes to light. 'Aalst' is based on a real-life double murder of their
children by both parents, its unspoken question, the one we would all
be likely to ask ourselves first, 'Why?'.

Kathy (Kate Dickie) and Michael Delaney
(David McKay) are interrogated by a disembodied Voice (Gary Lewis)
about their past lives and the events leading to the murders of their
children. The Delaneys bleak backgrounds prove the stuff of social work
reports; a depressing chronicle of inadequate social care leading
almost inevitably into petty fraud and other crimes, state dependence
and the black economy. The script appears to be based substantially on
transcripts of proceedings, and the production puts Kathy and Michael
back on trial, possibly to reduce the sentences they are already
serving, although this is never made fully clear.

What is made clear is that any 'freedom'
they might enjoy in future would be completely illusory - both of them
being aware how life closed down their options long before they took
their children's lives. The audience can all but smell the hopelessness
of the equivalents of the Rapploch or Easterhouse in which Kathy and
Michael exist. The problem remains that however true all of this
undoubtedly is, reportage struggles hard to become drama. Dickie and
Mckay however, turn in genuinely moving performances of skill and
invention, propelled into confronting the horror they have perpetrated
by Gary Lewis' relentless Voice.

It may or may not be true that it has become impossible to write
tragedy after Auschwitz, yet the more irretrievably commodified our
experience becomes, the less able we are to re-experience it as poetry.
'Medea', whether in English, Scots or French has more to say about the
instability of our most deeply held beliefs about parenthood than a
wheen of court reports, as well as the grace to understand how private
our private lives must essentially remain. There feels something amiss
in 'Aalst', appearing to collude in stripping away the reticence shame
can induce, even as it condemns such prying. Kathy and Michael are too
inarticulately 'other' for a largely middle class audience who
(presumably) love their children and act responsibly. Their actions,
reactions and guilt never quite become ours, no matter how
understandable some of these is made.

Antigone, Medea and Hamlet permit an
audience to dream unacceptably in public - to gloss the awful with
responses to questions they would never otherwise dare ask themselves.
Our inner worlds seem to have shrunk with the globe, and our ambitions
equally diminished. 'Aalst' feels but a few tragic steps removed from
'Trainspotting' or 'Shameless', and if theatre is indeed reducing to
holding mirrors up to our individual or collective misbehaviour, the
reflection we need to see ought to be clearly and uncomfortably our