2071 at the Royal Court – Review

*2071 returns to the Royal Court 23 & 24 January 2015*

As 2071 goes into its final performances on stage at The Royal Court theatre today, along with a Day of Action on climate change, I thought instead of a straight-up review it was perhaps best to briefly reflect on what it might mean for the Royal Court to have presented it.

2071 is a work that considers the manifest destiny of our planet’s climate and how scarily close we are coming to violently crossing a frontier we should have no right to cross. I use the word “work” with caution. As the Head of Lighting at the Royal Court assured me on Twitter, 2071 was not billed really as “a theatrical experience”. Although, to the contrary the website blurb describes “a new piece of theatre has been created where the science is centre stage.” Now in order to explain my reaction, I first have to admit that I attended 2071 last week not quite fully informed. I knew it was a written collaboration between a Climate Scientist and the playwright Duncan Macmillan but was unaware that the former would be playing himself (being himself?) I just assumed an actor would be taking on the role but no, the one man show was presented by Chris Rapley as Chris Rapley.

It’s here that I get into a dilemma. As I listened to Rapley’s delivery of facts, figures and hypotheses regarding the dire state of our planet, I felt a glitch of what I can only describe as insincerity; it felt very much like an actor (and not an especially good one) performing – he read off an auto cue. The visual effects, with graphs and diagrams, were designed as carefully and imaginatively as a stage set. Katie Mitchell, a theatre director, had directed the piece. Most of all, this talk was played on a stage in a theatre building. For me, there was a 4th wall, however translucent; an invisible divide that made the action on stage seem framed and fictional.

Only at the very end did I feel as though I was directly being addressed alongside my fellow audience members; like Rapley was finally acknowledging our existence, and that moment was outstandingly the most powerful. But otherwise, the experience lacked drive. What was pertinent, necessary and hard hitting information became like fiction but unlike drama, without suspense, character or emotion. It was plotless but without the absurdity and nonchalance that makes even a relatively uneventful play like Endgame riveting.

Perhaps my good understanding of climate change (I have a father who specialises in green architecture and friends working for both Greenpeace and the Green Party) affected my reaction. It’s quite possible that someone less engaged in climate justice would find the performance enthralling, shocking even. But I didn’t. This fact I hold in tension with my thrill that the Royal Court have programmed such a completely important subject. So then that age old question remains, can art have the power to effect real change? By putting a Climate Scientist on a stage, have the Royal Court done something fundamentally different than if it had been a Ted talk? That aside, if just a few hearts and minds have been swayed by 2071 – theatre or not – it can only have been an exceedingly good thing.