Review: Screen 9 (Pleasance at the EICC)
Updated: Jun 1, 2022
Learning about the Batman Shootings of 2012 is upsetting in two ways. The first is learning how many people were killed and injured doing something as normal as going to the cinema to see a superhero movie. The second is realising that, for whatever reason, most people in the UK have not heard of this tragedy sooner. In Screen 9, writer and director Kate Barton weaves the words of real survivors of into four fictional characters, who tell the story of the mass shooting in Colorado and its aftermath.
These testimonies are well put together to create a timeline of the event; the excitement of the midnight screening, the shooting itself, the flee to safety, the media attention, and finally where these “characters” are now. The pacing is just right; it lingers on the details long enough to let them sink in. Barton’s direction, such as having the cast sit amongst the audience as they describe the event, create a chilling sense of closeness, trying to cut down the distance between performance and reality.
After this, the group become more divided; talking about the memorials, the media portrayal, and the controversial visit from Christian Bale. The highlight is the discussion of gun control. In most instances of Scottish and British people hearing about a shooting in the US, the first instinct is to bow our heads and tut at the loose legislation around firearms. And sure enough, most audiences will find their views align with the character of Alex, who argues that there needs to be tighter gun control for everybody’s safety. What this production does differently is that the debate is portrayed earnestly, not demonising the opposing opinions that “guns don’t kill people it’s the people who use them”, and “the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun”. From a British perspective watching these viewpoints taken seriously may be toe-curling. But to understand the complexities of the debate, and how strongly held opinions are from all sides, Screen 9 understands the importance that it is portrayed with honesty and balance.
The method of storytelling is not without fault, however. Turning these testimonies into four named characters is arguably reductive since it removes the personalities of the survivors and turns them into “the parent” and “the girlfriend”. The cast (consisting of David Austin-Barnes, George Rexstrew, Sabrina Wu, and Hannah Schunk-Hockings) all perform well in their roles, but their broad characters mean there is not much scope to dig into their traits or emotions. Barton maintains anonymity and strives for narrative cohesion, but creating Frankenstein testimonies comes at a cost of individuality. For a group of people who have largely been spoken over about their own experience, this production still does not give their voices the platform they deserve.
Even so, the merits of using the survivors’ own words to create a fluid narrative outweighs the drawbacks of them being spoken through fictional characters. With a host of strong performances and Barton’s writing and direction that is sensitive yet confident, Screen 9 puts together an engaging, emotional and thoughtful picture of a national tragedy, and how that nation reacted to it. Four stars.
Whispers from the Crowd:
It was very very emotional, there were bits that were hard to watch.
It was thought-provoking, it was interesting how they covered gun ownership in the US – most shows wouldn’t include that.