Monday, 10 November 2014

Theatre review: 2071

2071 is the year climate scientist Professor Chris Rapley's oldest granddaughter will be the age he is now, which gives his lecture at the Royal Court its title. Rapley describes how he first became fascinated with the Antarctic as a child, and how as an adult his work has seen him studying the melting of the polar ice and the ramifications for Earth's climate. He presents inarguable evidence for climate change, a bleak prospect of how much worse it'll get when his grandchildren are adults, but finally he has some optimism that the initiatives of the world's governments have some chance of preventing the worst of it. I did puzzle over whether to call this a theatre review or come up with something else, like "lecture review," but director Katie Mitchell has insisted that it's theatre, so I have to judge it on those terms.

It has a set - Chloe Lamford supplies a tunnel made up of three screens, on which monochrome charts and maps are projected - and music by Paul Clark playing quietly underneath it. But in every other respect the show rejects theatricality to such an extent it's hard to agree with Mitchell or, to be honest, see exactly what contribution she as director has made.

A scientist doesn't have to be charismatic but nor are the two mutually exclusive, so while Rapley may have the best knowledge for the job, it seems perverse not to have chosen someone with the tiniest ability to engage with an audience. What's most unusual is that, for someone whose potted life story describes a lifelong fascination with his subject, he has no ability, or even apparently any desire, to infect his listeners with his enthusiasm for it. I don't blame Rapley for being clearly uncomfortable on stage (he sits down, crosses his legs, and then apart from the occasional sip of water doesn't move for the next hour) but everyone around him who must have been able to see this wasn't a job suited to him, and let him do it anyway.

Rapley's speech is co-written by Duncan Macmilan, which just makes me wonder how dry it would have been if he hadn't had a professional playwright's help. Because the facts themselves are quite compelling, the show's not quite as dull as I was fearing, but again this is entirely down to the material, not in the least bit down to how it's been treated on stage. And while I couldn't have given you the statistics, I already knew and agreed with the broad sweep of the show's message, and I'd hazard a guess most of the rest of audience did too. 2071 ends with Rapley telling us how even staging this show, and the creatives and audience travelling to and from it, is creating a carbon footprint that will still be present in 2071. The Royal Court is quite often guilty of preaching to the converted; this time the converted also get berated for turning up to preached to in the first place.

2071 by Duncan Macmillan and Chris Rapley is booking until the 15th of November at the Royal Court's Jerwood Theatre Downstairs; and then on the 17th and 18th of December at Deutsches Schauspielhaus, Hamburg.

Running time: 1 hour 10 minutes straight through.

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