Writer/Performer: Alanna Mitchell
Directors: Franco Boni with Ravi Jain
Reviewer: Gareth Davies
We’re all going to die, sooner or later. Sooner rather than later, given what we’re coming to learn about the state of our planet, and the destructive impact we’re having on it. But a lot of the studies cataloguing man’s effects on Earth focus on the land – journalist Alanna Mitchell thinks we’re looking at things the wrong way around.
If all of the life on the landmasses of our planet died off, she contends, life under water would be largely unaffected. But if everything under water were to die, everything on land would suffer too. This is because 99% of the habitable space on our planet is beneath the surface of the water, and every second breath of oxygen we take is produced by the plankton in the oceans.
Mitchell has spent years following the story and uncovering the scale of the dangers of destroying this essential ecosystem, of how pH levels and ocean temperatures are rising, how fish are leaving their traditional habitats for cooler waters, and how mankind has done more damage in the 269 years for which we’ve been burning fossil fuels than were done in the billions of years before we got here. Could it really be as bad as it seems, she asks one expert? No, he replies – it’s actually far, far worse.
By her own acknowledgement she’s not an actor, which is fine because this is far from being a work of theatrical style. It has substance, sure, but in the way that a lecturer with a chalkboard, a few props and a stack of facts and figures has substance. A few lighting changes and a quick blast of Bob Dylan doesn’t mask the fact the Mitchell’s presentation has little creativity to underpin her message.
There is a nice reflection on how her quest to find answers is like the age-old storytelling form that always ended in glory, success or redemption. But her only attempt to create a solid ending is to suggest that it is still to be written, and that we have it in our collective power to decide how things go from here. It’s far from a satisfying conclusion, and a strangely impersonal one, despite the validity of all her research and despite the passion she clearly feels for the topic.
The story Mitchell tells is well constructed – as you would hope from a journalist of long-standing – and she is a more engaging and experienced performer than she describes herself as at the start of the piece. The charisma and conviction with which she lays out the fruit of her research is that of any passionate individual seeking to draw strangers to her cause. And certainly her message is one that people should hear, heed, and respond to.
But it’s hard to escape the journalistic style that suggests this would work just as well as an extended written feature in National Geographic, or a broadcast episode in the style of David Attenborough; as a work of theatre it’s hard to escape the scratch of chalk and the use of well-told anecdotes to hook us into a lecture.
Runs until 25 August 2019 (not 5, 12 or 19) | Image: Chloe Ellings