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Review: A Play for the Living in a Time of Extinction

A Play For The Living In A Time of Extinction_Barbican_Helen Murray_23

By: Su Carroll, TRP Reviewer


I will say this for the Theatre Royal Plymouth. There’s certainly plenty of variety. In The Lyric this week is The Bodyguard – anthemic songs, boldly delivered with plenty of dance, a smattering of comedy, some jump out of your seat moments and real flames. The audience leapt to their feet as one once the final note ended. They loved it.

In The Drum is, as Monty Python would say, something completely different. No whizz bang special effects here but something which still manages to pack a punch. Imagine what it takes to keep The Bodyguard on the road. Sets moved from theatre to theatre in great big lorries, cast and backstage crew being transported around the country and the wattage required to make sure audiences can see and hear it all.

In A Play for The Living in a Time of Extinction it is the play that moves, cutting out all those road miles with their carbon impact on the climate. And they don’t just plug into the mains to power it. It has light, sound and projection courtesy of people power – four cyclists whose constant movement is transformed into energy. It certainly underlines the point it is trying to make.

Miranda Rose Hall’s play – directed by Katie Mitchell – travels the country where each venue provides the company and the pedal power to allow it to be performed off-grid. In Plymouth, the resident artist playing the show’s one character, Naomi, is Shaday Barrowes-Bayewunmi. Naomi separated from the two people who were to bring us the play about climate change. But they left last night because the mother of one is dying.

But the message is so important that dramaturg Naomi is going to bring it to us herself. We need to hear it. Shaday works hard to get the audience on side. And we need to be, because the reality of having endured five mass extinction events already when we are still messing with the planet is a hard message to hear. Naomi’s whistle stop explanation of the scientific evolution of Earth is fascinating and the mass extinction events which were caused by geology, weather, meteorites. The next extinction will be all our own work.

Naomi’s role as a dramaturg is research and she’s done her homework, bombarding us with facts and figures. All of it grim. Wake up! Wake up! Wake up! She yells at an audience stunned into silence.

The staging is simple but there’s no denying that the images of species that are at risk, endangered, critically endangered and then rendered extinct in Naomi’s lifetime are tragic and moving. Plants, animals, trees, birds. How long before Naomi can add humans to the list. And how can that be when we are single-handedly the root of the problem?

Headlong’s innovative production, co-produced with The Barbican is disturbing and effective (no spoilers). It left a lasting impression.


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