The consensus should be one of universal approval for Kyoto drama - The Malvern Observer

The consensus should be one of universal approval for Kyoto drama

THE VULNERABLE future of life on the planet ought to provide drama enough for a decent play but charting the environmental threat exclusively through the eyes and voices of weary delegates and their interminable debates ought to kill it stone dead.

That, in complete contrast, we get such a fabulous, riveting and memorable piece of theatre is down to a production which exudes pace, invention and style.

From the fully immersive conference set, through big screen graphics, constant cast movement and rattling dialogue, Stephen Daldry and Justin Martin’s direction sets off at a gallop and never lets up. Nearly three hours on the inner workings of agreeing a few paragraphs races by in a way it really shouldn’t.

Tough negotiations and spirited, poignant entreaties from threatened nations battle for attention with moments of brilliant comedy. The scene where language translation stops and delegates resort to shouting their demands through an increasingly ludicrous debate on punctuation is inspired. And there are many more scenes to treasure.

Terrific performances abound in this production. Jorge Bosch as the man in the chair gradually giving up humour for desperation as deadlines and chances for compromise pass, is impressive throughout. Jenna Augen as the wife behind the principal mover provides grounding and perspective before a closing monologue on the balance between public support and life at home which could form the basis of a play all on its own.

There are convincing and enjoyable performances from all the world’s delegates, particularly those with recognisable characters – Ingrid Oliver as Germany’s Angela Merkel and Ferdy Roberts as a (surprisingly) larger than life John Prescott in particular.

But the overarching presence and impetus in this monumental piece is Stephen Kunken as American lobbyist and eminence grise Don Pearlman. Hugely likeable even when openly trying to block any sort of progress on addressing the climate crisis, it’s a performance full of wit, charisma, persuasion and bullying, and ultimately pathos.

Recent history may have cast a shadow over the triumphant optimism of the Kyoto summit and a generation – Greta, Just Stop Oil, carbon reduction and all – has pushed the issue even more centre stage, but while we’re all familiar with the need to act, the pressure not to do so and the arguments, however self-centred and plain daft from that quarter have rarely been as incisively examined.

Constructing this story from the perspective of the now-reviled climate crisis denier, is what saves this from being just a procession of hand-wringing statistics and fanfares for change. Instead it’s a compelling human story packing so much more of a punch.

Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson’s towering, lengthy script may have difficulty finding a home elsewhere – it would be hard to imagine it succeeding without the abundant resources the RSC brings to the table here – but writing as crisp and pointed as this deserves to prosper.

There are many reasons for watching and learning from this instructive and politically worthy play, but in truth it’s just a fantastic piece of theatre and that should be reason enough.

Matthew Salisbury

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