Thursday 5 August 2010

10 things you need to know about 'earthquakes in london'

1. Earthquakes in London is the National Theatre's first climate change play.

2. The writer, Mike Bartlett, had a big critical hit last year with Cock; the director, Rupert Goold, had an even bigger hit with Enron.

3. Earthquakes lasts three hours; a big sprawling story that spans from 1968 to 2525 with a cast of 70-80 characters.

4. The central figure of the scientist, Robert Crannock, an atmospheric physicist with three estranged daughters, is based on James Lovelock (the science, not the relationship with the daughters). Crannock studies earth systems. He thinks its a waste of time to recycle. He believes the planet can only cope with a billion people (and five billion will have to go).

5. Bartlett was inspired by a quote from Lovelock comparing the current situation to the Weimar: "Enjoy it while you can." In theatre, Weimar Germany equals Cabaret. So the set is a cocktail bar that snakes through the auditorium with members of audience sitting on bar stools or leaning against railings, and actors performing on the bar table: Cabaret meets climate change.

6. Add to this, multiple plot lines: one daughter is Environment Minister in a Coalition Government with a marriage on the rocks who is tempted to join the aviation industry; another is about to have a baby and is married to a guy who writes loo books for Christmas; a third is an alcoholic who goes for one night with a guy who next morning wants to blackmail her because his family are climate change victims in Eritrea.

7. What you get is a disjuncture between the plotiness of the play and the showy big-night-out manner in which it's been staged. The production is colourful and immersive (see 5), you can be sitting only inches away from the characters, but that doesn't take you deeper into the lives of the characters.

8. The punchiest speech in the text is the attack on the baby boomer generation for wrecking the planet ('We've got about five years left before it's too late, so you'll forgive me if I don't wait for the next election'), but - see 7 - it doesn't have the impact on stage it has in the text.

9. In the last 15 months there have been two climate change plays with James Lovelock characters in them. The other was Steve Waters' doublebill The Contingency Plan. (One actor, Geoffrey Streatfeild, has been in both.)

10. Earthquakes has Lia Williams and Bill Paterson in it. But The Contingency Plan was better: more focussed, more authoritative, more laughs.

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