Kyoto: Information overload burdens this ambitious account of the 1997 protocol

Making a point: Kyoto
Making a point: Kyoto - Manuel Harlan

Given that alarm-bells are ringing louder than ever about the peril of climate change it’s hard not to think of those lines in A Midsummer Night’s Dream about the fruit of Titania and Oberon’s wrangling (“And thorough this distemperature we see./ The seasons alter…”).

Magically and aptly, they’re spoken in the midst of Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson’s conscientious account of the road to the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, which committed multiple states to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, in theory to avert extinctive disaster. This isn’t poetic licence – a curious fact about the 1992 Rio Summit, a staging-post to the agreement, is that film-maker Werner Herzog presented A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the Amazon Forest as part of a deluge of artistic eco-activity complementing the arid jaw-jaw of conference.

Perhaps it’s a stretch to say you can’t see the wood for the trees in this well-researched, well-intentioned theatrical equivalent to a Ted talk. Murphy and Robertson (whose company Good Chance gave us the award-winning 2017 Calais migrant camp drama The Jungle) prioritise clarity and a fair bit of levity – James Graham style – as they brief us, stylishly abetted by director Stephen Daldry, on a crucial topic. Even so, as we wing from talks in Virginia, Geneva and New York, past Rio and on to Japan, it’s hard for heads not to spin at the information overload, with every advocated commitment and punctuation mark picked over. And while we come to admire the collective effort that saw vested interests corralled and outmanoeuvred, it doesn’t offset our growing sense – today – that Kyoto may have achieved too little, too late.

Just as Graham’s film Brexit: The Uncivil War provided a “backstage” slant on the EU referendum by foregrounding Dominic Cummings – so here, the two Joes employ a cynical, Iago-like narrator in the shadowy figure of Don Pearlman, a US lawyer turned oil industry lobbyist once dubbed “the High Priest of the Carbon Club”.

Despite being played with a gleaming intelligence and a finally rattled insouciance by American actor Stephen Kunken, it’s hard not to be repelled by his stance, and who would revel in his machinations? A coda by his widow (Jenna Augen) explains his commitment to American ideals but even so, he lacks admirability and rather awkwardly is at once central and peripheral, establishment and insurgent, real and emblematic – steered by a cohort of mobster-ish corporate baddies.

It’s a bloke-heavy night, notwithstanding commanding turns from Nancy Craine as the sceptical USA envoy, Ingrid Oliver as a stubborn Angela Merkel and a fiery Andrea Gatchalian as the rep for the Pacific island of Kiribati, fulcrum of the ‘developing’ world’s righteous indignation. Miriam Buether’s set, with delegates (and some audience-members) sitting at a stalls-level circular conference table, is sleek. But aside from being tempted to see some tap-dancing on it (yes, this could be a musical), the subject might be better served by following Herzog’s Shakespearean example and presenting it in the nearest available forest, come hell or high water.

Until July 13. Tickets: 01789 331111;