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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the National (Lyttelton)


  Lyndsey Marshal and company/ Ph: Helen Warner

Few issues in the world today are more globally pressing than climate change, and a serious play is waiting in the wings to be written on the subject. Why is it, then, that the National Theatre, when tackling weighty themes – for example, the legitimacy of the war in Iraq and the current financial meltdown – always disappoints? The bigger the subject, the smaller the play addressing it.
And so it proves yet again with Greenland, a piece so up its own backside in worthiness and wordiness, it takes two hours without an intermission to say nothing Al Gore hasn't said more effectively and with greater impact in his documentary An Inconvenient Truth.
Four writers – Moira Buffini, Matt Charnin, Penelope Skinner and Jack Thorne – take two hours to cover the spectrum of their subject through the activities of a climate modeler, an Ed Milliband supporter who fears bringing kids into the world, a student who drops out of university and breaks her mother's heart by becoming a rabid environmentalist, a pair of girlfriends who don't see eye to eye on the importance of climate change, and a bright young would-be geography student in the Harold Wilson era who morphs into a contemporary climatology professor and hangs out in the wilds of Alaska with his younger self.
No thinking person on this planet today can deny that attention must be paid to the issues raised in Greenland. Trouble is, the creative team makes it very difficult to pay much attention to the characters they've created and their personal dilemmas.
What we have here are four playwrights in search of a play. Alas, they never find it. What we're given instead are the full resources of the National's sizeable budget as far as the physical production is concerned. For some inextricable reason, the drop-out student is seen flying over the interior of a supermarket ensconced in a trolley cart. A middle-aged professor in the company of his younger self has a close encounter with an Alaskan bear (brilliantly staged I have to say), while from the copious flies of the Lyttelton Theatre hundreds of empty plastic bottles come hurtling down. 
There's an on-stage cloudburst that dispenses gallons of water, and for much of the evening, snow, in the form of pieces of paper, comes floating down onto both the stage and the auditorium. In fact, so much paper is wasted in Bijan Sheibani's busy production, I'm thinking of lodging an ecological complaint to whomever is in charge of deforestation issues. Nothing particularly green about the waste of resources here.
A hard-working cast burns up quite a bit of energy trying to breathe life into the proceedings, but to little avail. All things considered, Greenland is no place you want to be.

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