Wednesday, 9 February 2011


8/2/11, Royal Court

Superfluous smoking near-miss*
2 hrs 45 mins. Penultimate preview with Juliet Stevenson of new Richard Bean play. Billed as about climate change but actually two plays. A conventionally-plotted old-fashioned farcical melodrama with some good twists, and an inadequately-developed didactic climate change play bolted on.

Part one is an intermittently interesting piece of limited plausibility about a university earth studies lecturer who steps out of line to claim that sea level rise as a result of climate change isn't happening. It's set in her office, where she gives one-to-one tutorials (and where does that happen these days outside Oxbridge?), fences with her boss and one-time lover, the professor, and then falls foul of the management and gets fired after an unauthorised appearance on Newsnight (filmed in the Newsnight studio with Paxo himself doing a turn).

Part two is a thoroughly implausible denouement set in the kitchen of her converted barn at Christmas, with much plotting ingenuity devoted to getting the characters to the location and in and out of the back door at the necessary moments and culminating (spoiler alert) in violence, near-death and a wedding. Some good jokes which should get even better as the performances bed in, lots of fizz and bubble, and a lot more entertaining than last week's climate change play, the NT's Greenland, but actually a bit of a mess.

You got the impression that Bean had started with the situation in part two and cast about for a suitable McGuffin to set the clockwork in motion, finding it in the timely but slightly arbitrary business of climate change sceptics.

The highlight: a wonderful performance by Johnny Flynn as a, like, climate-obsessed, right, personally troubled, like, bicycling, like really, really, um, confused student who gets belly-laughs from the audience, brings out the maternal in the Stevenson character and provokes naked lust in her daughter (a "purging anorexic") and even at one point sings a song he's "written" to his own guitar accompaniment... which could have been toe-curling but was actually rather sweet.

Stevenson and James Fleet as her boss and one-time lover have some equally good lines but haven't yet quite got the measure of them (and as A said may still be struggling with cuts and rewrites); as the performances mature I'd expect the dialogue to zing and the audience reaction to increase. But Stevenson has some awkward speechifying which slows things down: it didn't worry me too much, though revealingly I can't remember what the speeches were actually about; S got really cross.

Bean has invented some spurious science to move his plot along. The Stevenson character's life's work is measuring sea level rise in the Maldives, where she has planted a tree, and where she deduces sea level isn't rising at all. In Part Two our friends hack into the website of a rival university to discover from their emails (shades of the UEA scandal here) that their data has been massaged. The hacking is of course illegal, and none of this seems remotely plausible; worse nothing really happens in the play as a result of these revelations, which by that time have become much less important than the love story, the death threats story, the mother-daughter relationship story etc, the will-she-get-back-together-with-her-ex-lover-now-his-wife's-thrown-him-out story etc etc, which all provide "texture" but are all a bit of a distraction from the main event.

But there are nice touches: the Newsnight; the battery of laptops brought out for the hacking episode; and the polar bear (yes, this play has a polar bear as well, just like Greenland -- a teddy brought on as our scientist's union rep during the sacking scene which ends Part One).

*There's much talk of smoking dope and the Prof does come on at one point with a joint... but it's unlit.

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