Extinct review: Even a hardcore eco-warrior wouldn’t enjoy this

·2-min read
 (The Other Richard)
(The Other Richard)

We’re doomed. That’s the message of April De Angelis’s anguished, 70-minute harangue about climate change. An awkward blend of testimony, apocalyptic fantasy and an avalanche of depressing facts and statistics, it batters the audience into submission. Though eye-catchingly staged by Kirsty Housley and performed with zeal by Kiran Landa, not even a hardcore eco-warrior would call it enjoyable, or coherent.

It begins in 2030, where UK mean temperatures of 40c have led to rationing and riots in the food courts of M&S at Westfield. Then, with a jolt, Landa shifts tone and introduces herself as “April”, a playwright who fell in with and was educated by Extinction Rebellion activists in 2018. Interviews with these people play out and scroll across a screen under Landa’s feet and another angled behind her, followed by a suggested reading list (Naomi Klein, Jonathan Safran Foer, Greta Thunberg).

Then the facts start rolling in. In 2019 humans released 43bn tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. There are more cows than humans in Australia. If we don’t act now, the theatre we are sitting in will be underwater by 2050. I don’t doubt the accuracy of De Angelis’s research, or her assertion that we are facing one of the earth’s great extinction events. But her thoughts are expressed in clumsy, polemical fashion, and the juxtapositions in the script are excruciating.

When authors insert themselves into the work you inevitably ask how much is fact and how much fiction. Who are these XR supporters? What’s the backup for their assertions about wonky trees in Canada? There’s a moving account by a Bangladeshi journalist called Suhayla – into whom Landa morphs – about the slow drowning of her family’s land. Why put this alongside the garish recurring sci-fi narrative of a flooded future London?

Extinct gives audiences a climate changed- themed reading list (The Other Richard)
Extinct gives audiences a climate changed- themed reading list (The Other Richard)

Alone on stage, apart from a smart-arse “meta” moment with a stage manager, Landa manages the gear shifts of the script admirably. She squelches through saturated mud, dunks herself in a bath, sprawls over footage of infernos and aquatic idylls while detailing the effects of climate change on the four elements. When she produces an oil jerrycan, you count the seconds until she pours it over herself. Kirsty Housley backs her up with a production that’s technically adroit in its blend of video, sound and live action.

But part of the problem, as De Angelis acknowledges, is that climate change is a “hyper-object”, a concept too vast to be fully comprehended. And you’ve got to ask if a rant in a small theatre is the best way to address that. Ten years ago director Katie Mitchell put actual scientists on stage for two plays about overpopulation and climate change, and I don’t think that changed anything. I salute De Angelis’s sincerity, but this is an exasperating piece of work.

Until Sat 17 July: stratfordeast.com

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