During the first lockdown, Greenwich Theatre released a series of videos of past productions under the collective title of “Flashback Friday”. At the time there was simply so much material being streamed that it was impossible to fit everything in and so a number of them have had to wait to make it to the top of the “to see” list. Knowing that a couple of the pieces had the environment crisis as an underlying theme I thought I’d put them into my COP26 week and kill two birds with one stone – not that I should be attempting to cull wildlife in the current circumstances.
A couple of days ago I found myself “visiting” the Antarctic with Wilf Goes Wild and so it only seemed fair to turn my attention to the other end of the earth with Where’s My Igloo Gone? Young Oolik finds that her home is melting and sets out on a journey to discover why. She tries various animals including a walrus and a reindeer, but they can’t help. Then she discovers an oil company drilling and a geologist who explains the science behind the issue of global warming. Eventually she faces up to the business/industrial world to bring about a change for the better. Whether you’re a child or not it’s an intriguing piece of theatre because although there is dialogue it is all in a made up language “Iglooish” making it totally accessible to all viewers. Even the mini lecture about emissions becomes comprehensible if necessarily simplistic with the aid of some well-placed diagrams. This focused production is particularly aimed at children in the first years of school and has been devised with the assistance of a couple of bona fide scientists/academics so its credentials are assured – for an accompanying educational pack please click here.
Cleverly constructed by theatre group The Bone Ensemble, there are just two performers (looking back this seems to be an absolute given for children’s theatre about the environment). Sam Frankie Fox makes a sweetly innocent but determined protagonist while Jill Dowse is excellent at being everyone and everything else (including the wildlife) and she also plays most of the accompanying instrumentation as well. There’s some evocative singing/chanting and the pair’s imitations of Arctic birds is exceptionally good. Appropriately the show is played in the round in a sea of white designed by Claire Brown. Contributions from the audience are encouraged and this reaches a moving crescendo when they all come together to rebuild Oolik’s igloo and join her inside; it’s an enchanting way to finish this very entertaining children’s play with an absolutely serious message.
Earth Makes No Sound is aimed at a somewhat older audience of secondary school age upwards to adults. It’s a very difficult piece to categorise although its inclusion in an opera festival suggests that its nearer to that than any other format. Filament Theatre combine devised theatre practices with choral singing to provide a fused entity that is more than the sum of its individual parts and is therefore quite unique. They use about thirty performers in this short piece and all of them sing without accompaniment and move fluidly around the stage creating shapes and rhythmic patterns to the music of Osnat Schmool and the ideas of director Sabina Netherclift. It’s a haunting experience, though somewhat diminished through the lens of a camera, designed to inspire reflection and contemplation.
Give the environmental underpinning I expected the “earth” in the title to refer to the whole planet. It actually alludes to one of the four basic elements that make up our world which, unlike fire, air and water makes no distinct sounds of its own. In effect it provides a bass note to the aural sensations created by the other elements and it is these that the piece explores which is where the experience highlights the pollution which is slowly destroying us. We are reminded of diminishing air quality, raging forest fires and the increasingly poor quality of the air we breathe. In what is perhaps the best realised section the performers show us what happens as single use plastics enter our water systems and seas; this comes across as a gentler version of a show like Stomp. If you’re interested in how the show was put together there’s a videoed interview with Netherclift and Schmool adjacent to the performance.
Both these shows manage to make their points without recourse to actual words, making them of interest to theatre lovers as well as those wanting to explore aspects of climate change. And they would both definitely serve as inspiration in school lessons or at home to broaden our grasp of what our planet is going through. You might even get to learn a brand new language or way of expressing yourself.