Writer: Dawn King
Director: Natalie Abrahami
The air conditioning inside the Donmar Warehouse is working perfectly, guzzling energy seemingly without conscience. Momentarily in this hottest of Augusts, it feels good to be part of a generation that is kicking the can down the road. However, by applying the standards set in Dawn King’s sobering play The Trials, first seen in Germany last year, all of us could eventually be held to account for compliance in such misdemeanours and face possible execution.
King imagines a dystopian near future in which the ravages of climate change have taken hold. In an authoritarian system that is almost as frightening as the impact of global warming itself, 12 young people are summoned to serve on a jury for proceedings which they liken to the Nuremberg trials in the wake of World War II. They meet in a room where the windows are sealed to keep out air that is too polluted to breathe.
The jury hears three cases from older generations and then deliberates: all are accused of contributing to the destruction of the environment in which later generations would have to live, despite being aware of the potential consequences of their actions or inactions. A successful businessman (Nigel Lindsay) pleads that he tried to limit his carbon footprint while carrying out his globetrotting job and travelled by train for holidays. A writer (Lucy Cohu) argues that she could do little to influence change. An oil company executive (Sharon Small) accepts guilt for promoting supposedly environmentally friendly products that were actually no more than “greenwashing”.
The play’s subject matter is depressing, but inspired casting of the jurors makes director Natalie Abrahami’s production of it a joy. Drawn from the Donmar’s programme for nurturing young local talent, the 12 actors are all new or relatively new to the stage. It is remarkable that such a range of clearly identifiable characters can emerge in a play that is only 90 minutes in duration. They are hawks, doves and don’t knows and it is their conflicts and alliances that give the drama its backbone.
Outstanding are: Francis Dourado as Mohammed, who is reminiscent of Henry Fonda’s character in 12 Angry Men, swimming against the tide to argue for compassion and justice rather than revenge; and Joe Locke as the hawkish Noah, who sets the bar of innocence so high that even Greta Thunberg would have difficulty in clearing it. That said, enough singling out of individual, the director harnesses the energy of her youthful company to devise a production that is both exhilarating and engrossing.
The trap awaiting any playwright tackling an issue of topical urgency is preaching to the audience. King walks into the trap open-eyed and the delivery of her message is occasionally heavy-handed. Yet, somehow, this matters little, thanks to the performances of the young actors. This deliberating dozen should each have a bright future in the acting profession, assuming of course that there is any future to be had.
Runs until 27 August 2022