Review: Us/Them

This Belgian production allows the audience to view and experience a horrific event through the eyes of children.

Many shows this festival season have dealt with the brutality of war and other violent events in sombre or shocking ways. Brussels’ BRONKS Theatre approaches one such horrific event — a hostage crisis at a Russian school — with a playfulness that surprises and endears. It also challenges the audience: should a tragic event that resulted in the death of 334 people be treated with such light-heartedness?

Based on the 2004 hostage crisis at Beslan — where Chechen terrorists held more than 2000 children and adults’ hostage for three days — Carly Wijs’ play enables the audience to view this event through young eyes to great effect thanks to two stunning performances and smart stage craft.

A girl and boy (Gytha Parmentier and Roman Van Houtven playing characters much younger) act as the audience’s flight attendants to guide us through this horrific event. It begins innocently enough. They draw the outline of the school on the floor, joshing each other as they go. They explain their town in unison, as well as the surrounding areas and their friends. They also tell us about the others: the Chechens, who are just across the border and innocently expose the area’s xenophobic views of their Chechnya neighbours.

More than 330 people will die at the school, including 186 children, after being held captive for three days. It is tragic. Especially the young lives lost. Watching the boy and girl go through these events is a strange experience. You almost have to try and let go of your learned experiences and prejudices to engage with these children who view the world and the horror much differently.

And that’s what hurts. By not going down the terrorist blood bath route and showing kill after kill, which many of us are desensitised to, the playful tone of Us/Them makes this event — and other recent school shootings — all the more devastating.

Us/Them was performed at The Space Theatre on Thursday, March 8 and continues there until March 12.

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