Climate change is a toxic subject for theatre. It’s not going to bring in large audiences, star performers or supply a catchy show name to put up in lights. More likely, it will further whiten and age the crowd, sprinkling a few young activists along the back rows. So, it was refreshing to learn that Contact theatre had commissioned ‘Climate of Fear’ to kick off its ‘Flying Solo’ festival. But the interesting premise and spirited performances could not quite help this production fulfil its potential.
Frequent travellers along Oxford Road will be familiar with the H-shaped towers of Contact peering over the university campus. The borderline-carbuncle building programmes an innovative range of shows, always with young people at their heart. Flying Solo is a fine example of its vision: an annual festival celebrating what happens when performers go it alone. ‘Climate of Fear’ (see – gloomy titles!) promised to ‘explore the emotion of anger through the themes of climate justice, social inequality, memory and the body’. So far so intriguing.
Theatre 1 was set out with cabaret-style seating, promising audience interaction and some fourth wall demolition. A speedy social profiling of fellow theatre-goers suggested we were amidst more diverse company. So far so heartening.
On to the show. Tonight’s format was 9 monologues, each delivered by a young person playing a character grappling with a facet of climate change. First, we were introduced to a shopkeeper, hit by a nasty lung disease and (assuming this was the same person) the issues of plastic bags. But subsequent characters lacked this grocer’s charm – and critical examination. The only non-European character (a Colombian cleaner) presented a confusing, aspirational relationship with the West; a young blogger (this was only clear from the programme) notes, supplied a troublingly unproblematic notion of identity (‘there are three mes….. then there is the real me’). A tortured Monsanto worker did at least grapple with the corporate mask she was forced to don, but this interrogation could have dug so much deeper. Monologues delivered in couplets jarred and those delivered in song…sank.
These reservations should not detract from the feisty efforts of the young actors, who according to the programme notes had not previously engaged with issues of climate change or monologue. Laudable, without doubt. The creative process sounds interesting too: a period of immersion, climate-theatre camp. But where was the direction? A firmer steering hand would have lent these 60-minutes greater coherence and a more choreographed ensemble piece (rather than the group bow) would have surely made the message pack more punch. Flying solo is all very well, but you need a strong launch pad, and some wings…. Zena Edwards’s previous work, and blog musings, look so good – and her future shows will surely be worth a look – but maybe the ambitious hands-off approach did not match the material on this occasion?
Contact now turns its attention to a refurb, and relaunch. Let’s hope that the first listings in the revamped building include more work that confronts climate change, head-on. This evening proved there is a real gap in the market for a proper examination on the stage. But tonight was not it. The audience, aside from those cheering on their performer-friends, left underwhelmed.
Though this reviewer did receive a pack of radish seeds.
Reviewer: Chloe J.