Carly Wijs's Us/Them is a play about the 2004 Beslan School Siege, exploring the ways in which children cope with highly traumatic situations.
The play was first produced by BRONKS and Richard Jordan Productions with Theatre Royal Plymouth and Big in Belgium in association with Summerhall. It premiered in Dutch at BRONKS Theatre in Brussels on 27 September 2014. The production received its UK premiere in English at Summerhall as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe on 3 August 2016, winning a Fringe First award. It subsequently transferred to the Dorfman auditorium of the National Theatre, London, on 16 January 2017.
In September 2004, a group of terrorists stormed School Number One in Beslan, Russia, taking hundreds of children, their parents and teachers hostage. The ensuing siege lasted three days and left many dead. In Us/Them, two children, Girl and Boy, give a meticulously detailed account of the events of the siege, chalking out the layout of the school on the floor, scrawling facts on the blackboard, and bursting balloons to represent explosions. They use string to represent the tripwires set up by the terrorists, manoeuvring themselves through the tiny spaces in between. The act of remembering and recounting the events of the siege is treated like a game, played with the utmost seriousness.
In an Introduction to the published script, the play's author and director Carly Wijs writes: 'how can we put such indescribable acts on stage? How can we make something that is totally incomprehensible, understandable? And isn’t it taboo to make a piece of theatre about terrorism, aimed at audiences of children? Ultimately, I do not believe it is taboo – in fact, no subject should be taboo for children. It is just important that you use the right words. Discussing the topic of terrorism with children is a challenge, but it can be done. And must be done.'
The original production was directed by Carly Wijs. It was created with Thomas Vantuycom and designed by Stef Stessel. It was performed by Gytha Parmentier and Roman Van Houtven.