Grim forecast for UK play about climate change

Wed Feb 2, 2011 9:21pm EST
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By Ray Bennett

LONDON (Hollywood Reporter) - A very convincing Polar Bear strolls onstage at one point in "Greenland," the National Theatre's ambitious but disappointing play about climate change but it's about the only believable character in the production.

Four British playwrights, Moira Buffini, Matt Charman, Penelope Skinner and Jack Thorne, interviewed a raft of experts in order to devise the play, which has an impressive design but lacks focus and is woefully out of date.

It's a series of set pieces staged busily by director Bijan Sheiban that involve recurring characters in an assortment of settings from the Arctic Circle to the 2009 Copenhagen summit on climate change to the TV game show "Deal or No Deal."

Designer Bunny Christie makes it a very big show with videos splashed large across the back of the stage that show maps, graphs, news footage, talking heads and, most effectively, a flock of Guillemots seeking shelter in the melting icepack at the North Pole.

There are some attempts at narrative with Lyndsey Marshal as Phoebe, a government aide looking for ammunition for the green cause from an intense researcher named Ray (Peter McDonald). His computer models that predict what will happen to the planet are terrifying in the extreme and he likes to play a game with Phoebe that he calls "the worst case scenario."

One of them seems irrelevant but curious: the 500 million members of Facebook combine to pay off Africa's debt and the US government closes down Facebook. But Phoebe works for the UK's Labour government, which is ancient history since last year's election put a coalition of Conservatives and Liberal-Democrats in power.

There's a schoolboy, Harold (Sam Swann) who wants to study geography and we see him 34 years later as Harry (Michael Gould), a solitary monitor of what happens to birds and bears when the polar icecap begins to disappear. Gould is effective with some sorrowful lines about the beauty and tragedy of nature, and mankind's role in its fate.

Isabella Laughland plays an earnest young woman named Lisa who is determined to do something, anything, to protest what is going on although she's not very clear on what is going on. But Laughland captures the determination and charm of a committed youngster.   Continued...