Review: CLIMATE CHANGE THEATRE ACTION @ Exeter Phoenix

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Climate Change Theatre Action is a series of worldwide readings and performances of short climate change plays with the intention of raising awareness through a new platform. The performance promised readings of short plays focusing on climate change by a panel of climate scientists from the Met Office and the University of Exeter, in partnership with Agile Rabbit.

Directed to ‘The Workshop’, I was instantly met by a small, low-lit room of exposed brick walls with hanging lights. In the corner was a bar that looked like it was designed solely to sell craft beer. The entire aesthetic reeked of hipsters and gentrified cafes. But then again, I was at an event that combined climate change and theatre, what else should I have expected?

The evening was hosted and introduced by Dr Sharanya Murali and Dr Evelyn O’Malley from the University of Exeter’s Drama Department. I was surprised to see that four of the five panellists were women, seeing as the scientific community is typically male-dominated, so it had me contemplating the feminine connotations not only associated with theatre, but also with climate change. There has been a study conducted which found that men often resist green behaviour as they feel it would undermine their masculinity. Intended or not, the mere structure of the panel had me thinking.

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The first play performed was Laila and the Wolf, a subversive retelling of the Red Riding Hood fairy-tale by Iraqi playwright, Hassan Abdulrazzak. Framed within a time loop, we saw repeated scenes where the Wolf’s predicament became increasingly dire due to the consequences of climate change. The play managed to balance light-hearted comedy and its serious message, making it the perfect segue into the programme.

The following play, Appealing by Paula Cizmar, considered the ethical paradox of creating something beautiful like art out of the destruction of climate change. It highlighted the opportunistic exploitation of pain for profit, whilst examining our tendency to look away when confronted and uncomfortable: “but haven’t they already?”

Next came a reading of Idea Moose by Canadian writer, Kendra Fanconi. This was a piece of poetry that, in all honesty, I found hard to follow and was pretty quickly lost. However, once I gave up trying and just let the dulcet words wash over me, I was immediately transported to the snowy Canadian pine forests. This provided me with a moment of emotional respite from the intensity of the evening,

I’m glad I got this emotional break because the final piece, Canary by Hanna Cormick, was deeeeeep. It centred around the metaphor of a canary in a coal mine being a warning alarm for our environmental crises. I loved this piece because it did not claim to be artistically subtle or condescending. It was loud, proud and angry. The rage and fury at climate injustice permeate every word. Quiet words reflecting on the bodies that can’t be here because they’ve lost the fight against climate change were interspersed with shouts of “fuck the Anthropocene” and “stay the fuck out of the coal mine”. It was a powerful thing to see.

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The final part of the evening consisted of a discussion with the audience to mull over the pieces presented. It was incredibly interesting to hear the performers discuss the pressure they have felt to stay emotionally distanced from the data – they likened the emotional toll of their work to that of a police officer or paramedic, minus the mandated therapy sessions. So, they turn to this creative outlet for their climate anxiety.

All in all, I thought it was a great show. I loved the unassuming nature of it. You were drawn in by the enthusiasm of the performers, not by their flair for the dramatics. It was not an extravaganza of theatrical talent, nor did it pretend to be. The cosy and intimate atmosphere gave a sense of community, of like-minded people connecting over an issue via theatre. However, I would have suggested people only go if they were already invested in or curious about environmentalism. It was not a place for the apathetic.

Abi Smuts

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