Written & Directed by Kate Barton
If one were to google the 2012 Aurora, Colorado shooting, or more grotesquely known as the Batman shootings, a name would emerge. This is not the name to remember – this is the name to dismiss, reject and strike from history. The names of the twelve victims, and the seventy others who were injured, are the names that deserve to be recognised. Kate Barton’s Screen 9 may tell the events of that night of the midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises, but it goes beyond that. Screen 9 tells the story of the survivors and their traumatic journeys as they cope with loss, reality, and the concept of “moving on”.
Echoing the evening’s events there’s revelry in the air, the scent of popcorn, chatter, and excitement as Screen 9 welcomes in the audience. But there’s a distinct anxiety surrounding, choking the audience. We’re not entirely sure as to what it is, but we soon will. Four people, representative figures of those involved in the attack stand on the stage. A mother, a girlfriend, a friend, and an engaged man. All have lost something.
For those unfamiliar, the introduction of Screen 9 may seem disconnected, but serves a purpose by the conclusion. If audiences can recollect the horrific events of July 2012, then the moment the lights go down – a sickening, heavy knot forms in their gut. From the touching sincerity, Sabrina Wu captures as a young woman remembering the man who shielded her; to Hannah Schunk-Hockings as the mother who carries on, the performances are visceral and authentic, maintain a respectful sense of artistic licencing to drive the production forward.
Immersive doesn’t quite go the distance required to explain the tactic of Baton’s direction, it stretches to absorb the audience, to draw them into the fray. In an embracement of interactive theatre, the performers leave the stage and join the audience, vacant seats there to reconnect them with the cinema all those years ago.
And as hard as the audience may attempt to detach themselves, partially out of intrigue, significantly out of concern, the silence is crippling and addictive. Screen 9 is harrowing theatre, which stretches the confines of expectation as the room distorts amidst the smoke, into something sinister, yet alluring. Matthew Jennings’ design work for the screen and littered cinema stalls constructs an atmosphere, but it’s the visual dynamics of the screen and smoke which encapsulate a genuine sense of world-building and sensory manipulation.
In aspects, Screen 9 functions as a methodology of therapy, physical and intuitive, but particular moments come over less as theatre and more like a support network. It makes for a tricky atmosphere, where the dramaturg dissolves away for an even more powerful motif of expression. It loses a touch of what made it special, shifting focus onto questions which never evolve to the extents they ought to. Barton’s writing introduces the political aspects of gun control and censorship, but never stifles the emotional integrity of the production, and mercifully never detracts from the lives lost.
The impact Piccolo Theatre’s production leaves behind is astronomical, and in recent times within the UK with far stricter gun laws, it’s a show which horrifically shows no sign of losing relevance. If one thing is proven, more so than anything, it’s that the heroes of our contemporary times don’t always wear capes, and more often than not never wear a suit and tie.
Screen 9 plays at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre at various dates & times until August 29th. Tickets can be purchased here.