The 2012 Aurora cinema shooting is one of the most notorious mass shootings to take place in the USA in the last ten years. Screen 9 from Piccolo Theatre forces you to start thinking about the families and friends of those killed or injured. Adapting true-life testimonies for the stage, Screen 9 is a harrowing and deeply moving immersive production that asks how you try to unite and heal following such a horrific tragedy.
The opening scenes do well to emphasise the normality of the four characters on the stage. A mother of three, a movie buff, a young couple… they could be anybody, and yet the subsequent stories feel so deeply personal and unique. Plunging the audience into complete darkness, you get just a glimpse into the terror faced by the people on that night in July 2012. The dread of what might happen next freezes you in place, the increasingly frantic voices of the cast coming at you from all directions. There are vivid descriptions of the senses – the smell of popcorn never leaves the room – that have a startlingly transportative effect, taking you right to the scene in a manner that is frighteningly evocative. It is contemplative and serious without ever feeling slow or stale.
The four-strong cast are all exceptional, taking on the sensitive subject matter with nuance, emotion, and professionalism. After describing the events of that night the form of the play changes slightly, and they discuss the role of guns in a modern day USA. But this is not a political play. Screen 9 is far more concerned with people trying to pick up the pieces, no matter how futile it can seem. As if to illustrate the point, one character starts sweeping up all the popcorn littered around the stage. It is an insight into tragedy that theatre seldom captures with such immediacy.
One of the characters says that “people heal through stories.” Screen 9, handling a difficult subject with tact and a staggering dedication to atmosphere, makes this point clear. Never mentioning the killer by name, this is a show focused squarely on the loved ones who have to deal with their lives being changed forever. The end result is a gripping, thought-provoking show that riddles the senses with feeling and stars four outstanding performances. Screen 9 is one of this year’s unmissable Fringe events.