53: Greenland

13 May

This is a collaboratively written play. Four writers were commissioned to work together to research and write a play about climate change. The result is Greenland: a play with multiple characters, story strands and theatrical devices.

Face and Greenland

There are sections of Greenland that feel as if they might be verbatim theatre, with the characters introducing themselves by name and talking about their positions, and others that are highly theatrical and invented. What’s confusing is knowing or trying to guess where the boundaries might lie.

Moira Buffini, Matt Charman, Penelope Skinner and Jack Thorne are the four writers – I’ve had a quick late night google to see if I can find out what process they used to decide who would write which bits or how they interlaced them and connected them, but I’m afraid my short search was fruitless. If you know how it worked and can share a link in the comments that would be fabulous.

What the National Theatre’s website says is:

The National Theatre asked four of the country’s most exciting writers to investigate today’s most urgent issue. The team spent six months interviewing key individuals from the worlds of science, politics, business and philosophy in an effort to understand our changing planet.

What they’ve ended up with is a play that is filled with earnest and worthy sentiment, jumbled with too many characters and story arcs. I’d have struggled getting through reading it if it hadn’t been for the flashes of exciting theatrical business suggested in places in the script. For instance when an older and younger version of the same man meet in Alaska, watching the black guillemot seabirds. After a polar bear has terrified the pair, the stage directions read:

A truly mournful pause.
Then Harold lifts the dead bird – and it takes off and flies away. And they turn and watch it go together.
Then Harold falls through a trap in the floor.
And Harry is alone.
He’s really truly utterly alone.

(It would be easy to ridicule the “really truly utterly alone” but it’s not something that an audience would ever hear – it’s there as an indicator for the performer and the show’s director and designers.) There are also flying shopping trolleys, mountains of rubbish, cannons firing and some abseiling. I imagine that all of these elements at the National Theatre would have made for a spectacular production. But I doubt whether it was enough to cover the earnestness of the script.

Publisher: Faber and Faber

Cast: 32 (performed with 15 at NT)

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