Thursday, August 5, 2010

James Lovelock as dramatis personae in London plays and a movie, too

Aug 4,YEAR 4Billion-010, hat tip to More Intelligent Life, R.B. | LONDON

The acclaimed chemist and visionary scientist now capturing the imagination of contemporary playwrights is James Lovelock, a climate-change guru. Danny Bloom in Taiwan, who created POLAR CITIES, is James Lovelock's Accidental Student:

Dr L has been depicted twice on the London stage in the last two years. In 2009, Lovelock inspired the reclusive glaciologist in Steve Waters's superb double-bill "The Contingency Plan". The playwright told this UK theater fan that Dr Lovelock’s appeal was that he was a highly visible and contradictory character who “embodies some of the fault lines within green politics”.

Lovelock has also clearly inspired the atmospheric physicist, Robert Crannock, in Mike Bartlett's new play, "Earthquakes in London", at the National Theatre, directed by Rupert Goold. Crannock lives by a loch in a remote part of Scotland, believes it’s too late to do anything, and has no interest in recycling, insulating his home or getting "a bag for life". He works in a shed, from where he studies a planet which can only sustain one billion people. He says the planet is going to get rid of the other five billion.

As a dramatic persona, Lovelock combines two well-known types: Cassandra and the Misanthrope. In "The Oresteia", Cassandra makes a classic Lovelockian statement: “No escape, my friends, not now.” For all of Lovelock’s impish humour, he clearly relishes harsh, uncompromising statements. As Mr Waters has said, Mr Lovelock’s writing contains “something really misanthropic”.

Mr Lovelock has even provided playwrights and directors with a handy analogy. Mr Bartlett was inspired by Mr Lovelock's comparison of the present situation with the Weimar years, wrapped up in his statement: "Enjoy life while you can". In theatre, of course, the Weimar years conjure up a single image: "Cabaret". This explains the play's intriguing set design: Mr Goold has snaked an orange-surfaced cocktail bar through the auditorium; audience members sit on bar stools or stand behind railings while the action takes place on the bar or on stages at either end. The idea is we're all too busy dancing, drinking and shopping to notice the world is sliding towards disaster.

In one way, though, things have got worse since "Cabaret". In the 1960s musical, when the party-loving Sally tells Cliff that she's going back to work at the Kit-Kat Klub, she says, "Isn't it heaven?" Cliff doesn't think so. He’s seen what’s happening outside. "You know, Sally, someday I've got to sit you down and read you a newspaper. You'll be amazed at what's going on." Only today, as one pseudogate follows another, the idea of turning to the newspapers for the latest in climate science seems fairly quaint.

"Earthquakes in London" is at the National Theatre in London until hell freezes over.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That's a beautiful review/summary -- it left me wanting to rush out and see all those works (if only that were possible). Surely this is the mark of a good review!

- Hamish MacDonald