03 September 2013

Review: Columbine

31 August 2013
MUST Theatre, Monash University, Clayton
to 6 September

With so much unmissable on in Melbourne this week, it's easy to pass on a student production out at Monash Uni in Clayton. But if you can get a ticket, Columbine is a stunning, moving and highly original piece of verbatim theatre that needs to have a long life beyond this week.

Verbatim theatre uses the recorded words of people who were involved in a situation. One of the most well known is The Laramie Project that's based on interviews conducted by the performers.

Columbine is about the school shooting in Columbine, Colarado, USA, on April 20 1999. Director Daniel Lammin (Short and Sweet 2013 Best Director, Best Production) and his the company have spent months researching and developing this work. The amount of official and unofficial material available is endless – it takes seconds to find the school's CCTV footage of the shootings – and the task of deciding what stories to tell could be overwhelming.

But they've incorporated the overwhelming into the script and brought their own confused voices into the work by using conversations they had in the casting and development process.

The cast of 11 act as chorus, complete with music from the 90s including an unforgettable version of NIN's "Closer", and individually recite chosen stories including 911 calls, media reports, police reports, interviews with students, and videos made by the two shooters detailing their plans. The shooter's voices among those of the dead and devastated is confronting and disturbing, but vital to the piece's story and power.

At times, the telling is confusing, especially when voices are lost under noise and when cast sit on the edge of the stage and tell stories to only the handful of people who can hear them. This is frustrating, but stresses how impossible it is to ever know the whole story. Silence and stillness are kept for those stories that can't be ignored, like an interview with the 18-year-old who bought their guns, a soul-breaking interview with the parent of one of the shooters, and words from Columbine survivors to those of the 2012 Newtown shooting.

Columbine is not an attempt to explain what happened that day – it's beyond understanding – but an attempt to separate the urban legends from the truth and an attempt for the creators to understand its ripples of pain and shame.

Being developed in a university, its library and classroom context is never far from the heart of its makers, but there's a constant question hanging over the piece. The Monash students talk about the Port Arthur massacre, but there's no mention of October 2002, when a student opened fire in a building metres from the theatre at Monash. Two men were killed and five people were injured. There may be very good reasons why this isn't included, but the question still hangs.

With only a few shows left, Columbine is so close to sold out that getting tickets is impossible. So what's vital is that it gets another production.  This is a show that deserves the next step of development and the wider community deserve to see this remarkable work.

Photo by Alex Dye