Theatre Review - 'Greenland'

Posted on: 25 February 2011 by Alexander Hay

Heavy on facts, this eco-play is light on focussed script

Things are getting frosty as the icecaps melt in Greenland

Climate change is a subject which has caused much heated debate and controversy over the years yet has so far been neglected by dramatists.

All that has now changed with a spate of new plays on the subject, of which the National Theatre's Greenland (Lyttleton Auditorium) is the first.

This play is a compendium of facts , figures and intersecting narratives about global warming, wrapped up in three main stories. The first is about a young man from Walthamstow who becomes an expert on Arctic Birds and witnesses the effects of climate on their behaviour. The second centres on a young ecological activist who angers her parents by dropping out of college and joining a protest ground where she meets the militant Dav. The third focusses on a blossoming romance between a climate professor and adviser to Ed Miliband, and a scientist at the 2009 UN Climate Change Conference.

Drawing on six months of interviews, four writers – Moira Buffini, Matt Charman, Penelope Skinner and Jack Thorne – have explored the issue and attempt to lay out the confusions and uncertainties we have about the scale and nature of environmental change embracing both despair and optimism, but they have failed to come up with anything new or give a complex subject the necessary dramatic spark. Admittedly the play reflects society's anxieties over how to tackle climate change – through political negotiations or various individual gestures. But the confusing multi-perspective approach makes it difficult for us to get to grips with the characters and issues.

Nevertheless, director Bijan Sheibani draws naturalistic performances from his NT ensemble led by Lyndsey Marshal as the climate professor, and also produces some inventive visual flourishes – at one point a large, lifelike polar bear comes on and almost upstages all the actors, with the help of video designer Finn Ross.

The play makes it clear that when it comes to climate change, no one is listening. But this is a work which unfortunately embodies the problem rather than tries to change it. This may be an urgent issue, but what it lacks is a clear and impassioned voice to give it real theatrical bite.

Plays in repertory until April 2


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By Laurence Green

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Alexander Hay

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