Screams echo through corridors and lives are torn apart.

A teenage boy shatters a community by bringing a gun to a choir rehearsal and randomly opening fire, killing several of its members.

Claire, the liberal vicar who runs the choir, survives but is traumatised, obsessively churning over what happened in a bid to understand why he did it.

This is the premise of the hard-hitting play The Events, based on real gun massacres. It’s a bold new work which delves into the nature of forgiveness and reconciliation.

The catalyst for the play, which is coming to Birmingham Rep, was the shooting in Norway in 2011 when Anders Breivik killed 77 people.

Neve McIntosh, who plays Claire, says: “Writer David Greig and director Ramin Gray met shortly afterwards and wanted to do something about it.

“I’ve read up on Breivik and also Dunblane, which was so close to me. I remember that happening and thinking ‘Surely this can’t be happening in Scotland?’. But it can happen anywhere.

“When we were performing in Oxford, the Westgate massacre was happening in Kenya.”

The play is an emotional one, not least because of the addition of local community choirs. A different one is recruited each night to perform and they choose their own music.

In Birmingham, it will be Cantare Community Choir, Birmingham Ormiston Academy, In Sound Company and Coventry Singing City.

Neve explains: “I don’t know what the choirs are going to sing, so it keeps it fresh for me.

“The choirs open with a song of their choosing which is usually beautiful, but I have to harden my heart to it and think ‘it’s not affecting me at all’.

“The challenge for me is not connecting with my emotions. Claire talks about losing her soul and feeling numb, so I can’t allow myself an emotional release until the end of the play.

“The massacre has completely shattered her world. She goes through the whole gamut of reasons, trying to find out why the boy attacked the choir. It also touches on issues of immigration, as he says he ‘hates foreigners being here’.

“We have a different community choir every night. In Edinburgh we had Soweto Melodic Voices, which was extraordinary, and we’ve had homeless choirs. People singing in harmony can be very powerful.”

Neve McIntosh the lizard-like lesbian in Doctor Who.
Neve McIntosh the lizard-like lesbian in Doctor Who.
 

The Events was a huge success at the Edinburgh Festival, gaining plaudits including “deeply moving” and “fiendishly brilliant”, and has since been performed in Glasgow, Oxford, Dublin and at the Young Vic in London.

Future dates include Hull, Bristol and Plymouth, plus the Studio at Birmingham Rep from November 19-23.

Coming to the city will be a new experience for Neve, 41, whose TV credits include Gormenghast, Bodies and Single Father.

“I have never been to Birmingham before and I’m really looking forward to it,” she says.

“I’m always driving past it on the motorway when I go back up north, but the closest I’ve got is Lichfield, where I was performing at the Garrick. They told me I should go shopping in the Bullring but I didn’t even manage to get into Birmingham for the day.

“I take a foldable bike with me on tour, so I will be able to explore the city properly.

“I want to investigate the new library, and I love chocolate so Cadbury World has to be on my list too!”

Recently Neve has been specialising, though not deliberately, in playing lesbians. Claire is her third consecutive lesbian role, after appearing in the BBC drama Lip Service and playing Madame Vastra, the lizard-like lesbian detective who is a recurring character in Doctor Who. She was also a man-hater in this week’s Ripper Street.

“I’m starting to wonder if I’m cornering
the market in lesbians!” says Neve, who’s divorced. “I don’t mind, I’ll play anyone.

“I love playing Madame Vastra. Although I do suffer, spending three and a half hours in make-up every morning to have her lizard skin put on. I was so excited the first day when we did the make-up test, but after six hours I was like ‘Can we finish now?’

“Taking it off is the worst part, when they poke brushes into all my crevices to get all the stuff out. It hurts my skin.

“But it is the most fun to do and I can’t thank Stephen Moffat enough. He’s already said Madame Vastra will return in the next series, so I’m waiting to find out when. Come on!

“Unfortunately I’m not in the 50th
anniversary episode, which is a shame, but everyone else is in it and there’s a limit to
how many they can put in the cast – it’s chocker!

“I can’t wait to work with Peter Capaldi as the next Doctor. I know him from old, he’s such a lovely man and will be brilliant in the role. As long as he tones down the Malcolm Tucker swearing.”

* The Events plays Birmingham Rep from November 19-23. For tickets ring 0121 236 4455 or to go www.birmingham-rep.co.uk.