With COP26 happening, I’m spending this week reviewing online theatre material which connects to the theme of the environment. Most of it has been aimed at young people but here, at last, is an offering which adults can get their teeth into. The Space in London’s Docklands has been running one of its mini festivals, in this case called Good Cop Bad Cop (see what they did there?) and last night they live streamed a production of Accidental Birth Of An Anarchist; this now becomes available as an on demand piece. With its title an homage to one of the key plays of the 1980s, this is a far more entertaining way to hear the arguments than listen to some of the politicians who have been pontificating this week.
This play by Luke Ofield is set on a North Sea oil rig where two rookie members of the Peoples Movement to Protect the Planet have infiltrated with the intention of gluing themselves to the structure and halting operations. Alice the older of the two usually lives in a world of polite convictions with no swearing, regular downtime from mobile phones and where much of life can be regulated over a nice cup of tea. Lia is younger and certainly more impulsive; she also has a background in engineering so is a useful addition to the team. They make their way into the instrument room on a recce where they are confronted by The Captain (the site manager who has worked there for 22 years); ironically it is the generally level headed Alice who panics and takes some drastic action. The rest of the play is basically an extended debate about what the opposing sides stand for. The notion that one person’s activist is another person’s terrorist permeates the discussion as the stereotypes on both sides are shown to be false constructs and that in the end the three of them are all just people.
It’s not a long play – about 75 minutes in total (which I felt made an interval unnecessary) but covers quite a bit of ground. Even so I wasn’t particularly convinced by the position conversion of the ending as the trio decide to join forces. Before this they alternately debate climate issues such as what happened at Chernobyl, or how activism might be best conducted; this is mingled with character material about their personal lives and beliefs The two strands don’t always sit easily together – the Captain even says at one point, “Is this a hostage situation or a therapy session?” And there are some moments of humour too, often provided by Radio Ben and his concern with pizza; he appears as a voice only and its perhaps a pity that the set up doesn’t allow him to get on stage.
Aurea Williamson and Pip O’Neill as Alice and Lia respectively have a good rapport and have created believable characters, though whether Alice would ever take such a proactive stance is a moot point. They are contrasted in their dialogue but also in their clothing, mannerisms and vocal qualities so are a fairly standard odd couple able to convey somewhat contrasting positions about how to proceed to achieve their aims. I felt less convinced by Michael Jayes’ Captain who sometimes, if you’ll forgive the punning expression, seemed a bit at sea. I’d assumed Gabriel Thompson’s Ben was recorded but as he appeared at the curtain call complete with headset this obviously wasn’t the case; so, deserved praise for spending the evening outside the auditorium in the cold.
The set was effective and placed in the centre with audience on three sides and there was just enough dressing to convey the location. However, I was less convinced that some surplus lighting board equipment was actually supposed to be high tech electronics on a state of the art oil drilling facility. Positioning sometimes led to camera blocking but the operators were pretty quick on the uptake, and it didn’t intrude too much. In fact, this can’t have been the easiest thing to film so kudos to the person/people on camera duties. Neil Sheppeck’s direction keeps things moving along nicely, but do reconsider that interval as momentum is easy to lose.
The play is a useful addition to the ongoing debate about climate change and how best to effect action, especially in this particular week, and The Space, as ever, are on board with an appropriately timed set of messages. Whether, as in this play, the best way forward seems to be mutual co-operation remains to be seen or whether the madness with fossil fuels is allowed to continue in order to satiate the needs of the economy will no doubt continue to be debated for some time to come.