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Saboteur

10 February 2011

Greenland

Theatre during the football season? That's unusual, but tickets were on sale for just £15 so it seemed worth a try. Although the indications weren't good: Greenland is a play by four different writers, based around the theme of global warming. The obvious dangers are that it'll be incoherent and/or ranty. But one of the writers is Moira Buffini - who wrote Welcome to Thebes - so that's a good thing. (The others are Matt Charman, Penelope Skinner and Jack Thorne - and I don't know anything about them.)

I found a couple of reviews before I went, but didn't read them closely. Michael Billington's lukewarm review gave 3 stars. I think he rarely goes lower than that. He says the play "stabs the conscience without offering a perceptible point of view". Once again (as with Thebes) he's looking for something that isn't necessarily what theatre should be offering (in his review of Thebes he lamented the "unresolved contradiction between free will and fate"). He also says it might have been helpful to create characters, then embody the debate in them.

You have to be open to a less traditional view of theatre to enjoy this play, I think.  The structure is that there are four or five different stories interweaving:

(i) a labour party politician attends the Copenhagen conference
(ii) two women recount their differences over their attitudes
(iii) a young woman gives up her career as a trainee teacher to become an environmental activist
(iv) a young man applies to university; simultaneously his older self studies guillemots in Alaska
(v) a man takes part in a symbolic version of Deal or No Deal

Some stories are better than others. Number (i) is by Buffini, I'd guess; it has a lot of the same texture as Thebes and similarly melds the personal and political. Number (iv) is equally strong: a multilayered and quite moving story. Number (v) lost me fairly badly: I never thought not watching Deal or No Deal would be a source of regret.

The structure doesn't give the characters much room to develop, it's true, but I think they are sufficient for the purpose. It's a play of ideas and spectacle, and this sometimes makes it seem a bit impatient.

Charles Spencer in the Telegraph hated it. I think he has a problem with complexity, because it really isn't "two punishing hours of strident polemic". True, it doesn't give any houseroom to the notion that global warming isn't happening - that would be very much like saying disbelievers in gravity should contribute to the science curriculum - but it does explore the divergences of opinion as to how bad it will be, or what can be done about it. Didn't he notice that - for example - the politician wanted the climate scientist to be more forthright in his predictions? He's an idiot.

It's not by any means perfect, but it was an enjoyable, thought-provoking night at the theatre.

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