Writer: Bartolomeo Bartolini
Director: Maria Cristina Petitti
Tackling the issue of climate change in a theatrical setting courts the danger of making the audience feel held captive as they are fed a message with which they are already all too familiar. With the forewarning in its title, So…You Knew? threatens to veer to the patronising side of satire but in his one-man show, Bartolomeo Bartolini manages to blend real-life facts and figures with dance, song and comedy in a way that steers clear of being in any way preachy.
One of the ways in which Bartolini sidesteps an overly tendentious narrative is to tell the all too human story of one of the bad guys in the climate crisis story. Willie, a scientist employed by the thinly fictionalised ‘EcsonWobil’, is under pressure. He is soon to be married and with a child on the way. When his boss ignores his warning of climate catastrophe back in 1983 and instead offers him a promotion to head of public relations, we’re given a demonstration of how values can suddenly be compromised. Short-term goal-focused human selfishness, essentially the foundation of the mishandled global response to the climate crisis, is skilfully illustrated here in this one man’s decision.
As time passes, stats projected on the back of the stage show how Willie was right and the world is dying in just the way he predicted. His relationships fall apart as his wife and daughter learn that he knew about climate change but didn’t do anything to stop it. However, silencing the dissenting voices and the protesters has become part of his job, and indeed the reality of the global political landscape.
The core message of the piece is that there were people who knew about the dangers of climate change in the fossil fuels industry who could have done something about it, but instead chose to keep it quiet to maximise their profits. The interspersing of statistics and real-life footage in between the scenes is powerful. Often just reading facts and figures on a page fails to ignite a passion for change; what Bartolini achieves here is to get across cold hard facts but in an entertaining way. There’s a slapstick physical comedy throughout that is almost self-referentially a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine of activism go down, but it never feels patronising.
An “advertisement break” that flings us into the chaotic TV realm of the future is deliciously silly. Where the parts of the drama set in the past portray a realistic version of what actually happened in terms of scientists trying to blow the climate whistle, the step into the future avoids trying to predict hard-hitting tragedy. Instead, it’s a madcap world of apocalyptic nonsense which involves Bartolini playing a leering TV chef, a completely unhinged news broadcaster, and a disturbingly sexualised cow.
It’s clear that Bartolini has put a lot of thought into creating a piece of theatre that galvanises its audience into action without making them feel like there is an accusing finger being pointed at them. The stats are hard-hitting, and whilst he doesn’t express any direct anger himself, the footage poignantly shows glimpses of the protest movement and court hearings against real-life oil baddies ExxonMobil that acts as an affecting reminder of the power of activism. It takes a deft theatrical sleight of hand to mix all that into a funny, entertaining show and Bartolini has proven he is quite the magician.
Runs until 15 July 2023