Climate Change Takes Centre Stage In 2071

By Stuart Black Last edited 47 months ago
Climate Change Takes Centre Stage In 2071 ★★☆☆☆ 2

Professor Chris Rapley. Photo by Bob Workman.

Londonist Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Let's be clear, 2071 at the Royal Court Theatre is not a play — it's a lecture in the strictest sense of the word. It features a respected, white-haired boffin — Professor Chris Rapley, one time director of the Science Museum — reading a pre-prepared text about his specialist subject, climate change. There are some pretty, screen-saver style graphics floating around in the background, but that's about it for dynamism.

Quite why this talk is on in a theatre is something of a mystery. Presumably the facts Rapley disperses were considered dramatic enough for an hour's worth of stage time. And though The End Of The World As We Know It sounds like it should make for a gripping bit of theatre, unfortunately this talk is seriously short on shock and awe. Rapley lacks the charisma of a David Attenborough or even an Al Gore, and the flow of facts he produces is arranged in a decidedly underwhelming order.

The lecture starts with a long list of Rapley's qualifications, which are impressive naturally, but they hardly set the tone if he truly wants us to consider the issues as deeply as he does. The play is supposed to "dramatise facts" and playwright Duncan Macmillan has been drafted in to pep things up, but it's hard to see his contribution. Dry facts dominate everything and are expected to do the work of aesthetics. The only thing close to drama is a brief mention of Rapley's childhood and an anecdote about how he felt extracting a millennia old block of ice from the Antarctic.

Indeed, there's a whiff of tacit ego-stroking all over this exercise: the rare sight of a lifelong scientist treading the boards to impress the public with the hard numbers behind the biggest story of our time. But while one headline figure jumps out from the rest — 27 years before we reach carbon crisis — the true meaning of this is muddy, lost in a miasma of maths.

2071 commits the cardinal sin of theatre: it's boring. We counted at least three people asleep before the play was half-way through. And there's really no excuse for that when the subject is filled with so much inherent drama. From the forced migrations of indigenous people to the fossil fuel divestment movement, there's more than enough inspiration, moral complexity and heartbreak to make a good play.

In the end, scientists will find 2071 simplistic, the public has heard it before, and theatregoers paying for a good night out will feel a bit short-changed. Despite all the good intentions, it might be worth leaving this one for the school-trips — maybe one of those kids will go on to write the great, ground-shaking play about climate change that we truly need to wake people up.

2071 is on at the Royal Court Theatre until 15 November. Tickets are £12-32 (all seats £10 on Mondays). Londonist saw this play on a complimentary ticket.

Last Updated 07 November 2014