Lyttelton Theatre at the National
Plays until April 2011
A play about climate change doesn’t sound like a thrilling subject for the theatre. Theatre can deal easily with grand concepts, but not with abstract ones. Here four of Britain’s brightest young writers - Moira Buffini, Matt Charman, Penelope Skinner and Jack Thorne – have been given the task of bringing the clock-ticking issue of global warming home to us in a series of vignettes that are only related in terms of subject matter. A small ensemble of versatile actors plays all the various roles. They achieve this seamlessly and with real verve. This is not theatre in the traditional sense, more like Peter Brook’s anti-Vietnam war drama, ‘US’ - a kind of agit-prop. It raises many of the questions we all encounter, not least the head-in-the-sand behaviour of, ‘I don’t think it will affect me and the science is dubious anyway’. The issues of the sustainability of mass consumption with food being flown into our supermarkets from all over the world; the role played by the big oil and gas companies in frustrating climate control measures; which forms of active protest to adopt - all are explored through the intimate interaction of individuals. The play manages to avoid an over-earnestness and the writers inject plenty of humour to lighten the apocalyptic vision, symbolised by thunderous noise, frenetic strobe lighting and on-stage chaos. I particularly liked the advice given on where to buy a house to be safe from rising sea levels – choose one near Hinckley Point, as the government is bound to do all in its power to stop a nuclear power station being flooded, but not to save Brighton or Bournemouth! I also like the appearance of an incredibly realistic and very hungry polar bear that traumatises a camp of arctic researchers. It is a short, two-hour piece and, despite imaginative and effective direction by Bijan Sheibani and a strong commitment and persuasiveness by the actors, you feel it wouldn’t be able to hold your attention for much longer. It is, though, a very worthwhile dramatic polemic for young people and those still sitting on the fence. The National is to be congratulated on trying to address burning contemporary issues in this way, and judging by the packed auditorium of mainly young people, it is succeeding splendidly.