By: Cathryn Macey, TRP Reviewer
A touring play in which the script is the only part of the show that travels, A Play for the Living in a Time Of Extinction is a pioneering new play proudly promoting its core message of sustainability.
Its performers, stage manager, and Director are all homegrown; there’s not a tour bus or Travelodge in sight. To make it even more environmentally friendly, the production itself is powered by bikes pedalled by Plymothians. Greta Thunberg would approve.
It is undoubtedly a fascinating concept conceived and executed by Headlong Theatre, The Barbican and TRP but does a non-touring, touring show work in practice? And if it does, what more can it add to the climate change conversation?
Promises regarding how to tackle the issue of global warming were made by world leaders in 2021. Big promises; especially during Cop 26 when a new global agreement to reverse climate change was made. However, experts now predict the UK government will not meet their own targets to lower the country’s carbon emissions proving that a lot of these pledges, made in Glasgow just two years ago, have not materialised into solid action.
This is where A Play for the Living in a Time Of Extinction steps in.
An endearing, detailed look at the history of the world and its future, no subject is too deep in this show which fearlessly grapples with the questions and concepts so many of us are perhaps too scared to face up to.
It is this “climate anxiety” which sometimes overwhelms the production’s main actor. Naomi (Shaday Barrowes-Bayweunmi) meets us on a starkly lit stage with a wide grin and a nervous, explanation of why she is the only performer tonight. In a post-modern twist to tonight’s tale, she tells us that she is a dramaturg covering for the show’s two main actors who are off dealing with a family emergency.
Shaday’s Naomi is so instantly likeable and convincing in her role as a conscientious dramaturg that, for a long time, we actually believe she is a member of the creative team frantically scrabbling around for a way to make the show go on in the absence of her friends.
The way she tackles the climate crisis is refreshing. It would be easy to shame the audience into action or preach from a soap box about what we all must do to change things before it’s too late. After all, there is no planet B. However, Shaday’s Naomi is not at all preachy and comes across as a relatable young woman determined to share the wealth of research she gathers whilst producing a play about climate change. Her enthusiasm for her findings is infectious and her passion for the natural world oozes from every pore of her body.
Ultimately, the most enjoyable aspect of the play is the way Shaday takes complex scientific ideas and makes them accessible to a wide audience. Her gentle voice and strong, soothing manner make her explanations of everything from The Big Bang to the demise of dinosaurs incredibly engaging.
The teens in the audience are completely engrossed with her impromptu Science lessons. Interweaving hard facts with anecdotes from her childhood (as well as voluntary anecdotes from the audience) Shaday makes this difficult but important conversation one that is both inviting and easy to listen to. Credit, of course, must be given to Director Kay Michael for helping Shaday to create her warm and authentic persona as Naomi.
Credit must also be given to the four fabulous mamils (middle aged men in lycra) who power the show on their bikes. A bunch of unassuming, fit chaps, they are undoubtedly the unsung heroes of the performance. As Shaday pushes the audience to think about uncomfortable matters, they too push forward on their bikes. Their momentum adds to her momentum and intensifies the electric atmosphere of tonight’s inspirational performance.
The ending is as beautiful as Shaday’s sensitive soul and the entire play deserves recognition for its bold attempt to get us thinking again about the most pressing issue facing humanity right now.
Take action, get a ticket and support a play not afraid to break the mold and your heart.