Writer: David Finnigan
Director: Nic Connaughton
Reviewer: David Guest
It’s a daring title for an audacious play. Kill Climate Deniersboldly tackles the issue of climate change and eco-politics, sending its audience out provoked, open-mouthed and delightfully entertained.
With the play opening in the same week that one of the most outspoken climate deniers in the western world visited the UK this new production at the Pleasance Downstairs couldn’t be more timely. In 90 minutes writer David Finnigan manages to mash together the unlikely themes of Australian politics, media naiveté, techno beats, Fleetwood Mac and terrorism to create a brazen and stimulating piece that feels like a cross between Doctor Who, Yes Minister, The Thick of It, Printworks, Ionesco, Panorama and Die Hard.
Drama and documentary combine as Finnigan becomes one of the characters on stage describing the creative process, an evolution which includes the shutting down of the original production thanks to angry commentators and conservative bloggers – a scandal woven into the play itself.
It is a terrifically clever idea that could so easily become self-defeating and indulgent, yet in the hands of Nathan Coenen playing Finnigan we never once feel we are being preached at or steered into a particular side of the debate. He becomes a regularly appearing deus ex machina(from a stool in the corner at least) as we are given insights into what the writer was thinking and constantly challenged away from our comfort zone.
At the core of the play is a genuine question: how might we stop climate change and who is responsible for dealing with it? Public outrage about the all too real issue might make headlines but doesn’t necessarily mean anyone will take action. But when the people who may just be able to make the important decisions don’t understand the politics or the reality, least of all the real possibility of a planet spiralling into extinction, what can possibly be the answer?
All credit to the Pleasance for dragging Kill Climate Deniers to the other side of the world and enabling a London audience to see it. Not only is it a satirical swipe at topical issues, it is also an incredibly fascinating piece of theatre, pretty much tearing up the rule book when it comes to just about every aspect of the art.
It is clearly being produced here on a smaller scale than its original version and very occasionally this can make it look like a work in progress. But perhaps that isn’t a bad way of looking at a work that ebbs and flows with current trends and actuality. Your opinion and experience of the play might be affected by a news broadcast you see half an hour earlier.
Director Nic Connaughton (Head of Theatre for the Pleasance Theatre Trust) knows the space and the possibilities intimately and doesn’t so much break through the fourth wall as reject the idea that there are any boundaries between spectators and performers in the first place.
Some of the cast are stand-up comics, simple props (many of which are supposed to be the creations of a 3Dprinter) and limited space are used to fullest potential, we are regularly walloped by musical artists as diverse as Haddaway, EMF, Black Box and Joey Beltram, and the audience is frequently pulled into the drama. One unfortunate was threatened with being shot, everyone is encouraged to sing along to Go Your Own Way and later taken hostage, while this reviewer was mortified to be suspected as an undercover Daily Mail critic.
In addition to Coenen’s likeable narrator, wry without any trace of cynicism, the four remaining cast members are called upon to present an array of outrageous characters, which they do with passion and an infectious sense of enjoyment. It is impossible not to love the double act of Felicity Ward’s glorious creation Gwen Malkin, the environment minister whose careering from crisis to crisis makes her become an unlikely heroine, and her press secretary Georgina Bekken played with perfect comic timing by Kelly Paterniti. So good are they that one is almost inclined to demand a spin-off show for the pair.
Bec Hill is the fierce gun-toting lead terrorist Catch (to reveal their codenames would be to rob future audiences of the delightfully silly revelations), with whom we are allowed to have some empathy, while Hannah Ellis Ryan plays a number of other roles, one of whom – a journalist – gives a hard-hitting and memorable monologue that gets to the heart of prejudices and realities.
In all the debates and uncertainties the play still manages to find a positive conclusion, even if it recognises the present generation has messed up.
Kill Climate Deniers is a surreal attempt to figure out the unsolvable. That it does so in such a radical and revolutionary way makes this a work of genius in itself, but this particular company adds its own colour, fun and heart to create something extra special and unmissable in N7.
Runs until June 28, 2019, | Image: Ali Wright