Play(ful) politics

20 April 2019

 How To Save A Rock entices Joseph Winer

Most of us know that climate change is a thing. Most of us think that there’s still hope to save the planet. How To Save a Rock, a carbon-neutral show, sees four such hopefuls make a journey to try and save a polar bear. Whilst the plot could do with some dramaturgical work, weaving the adventure narrative a little more tightly with the audience address, the show is a ridiculously playful insight into a matter that our planet is crying out for us do something about.

A bicycle which must be cycled at all times to power the lights is a prominent feature of the performance. Underneath the spoken word, the wheels whir, the constant physical labour a reminder that trying to change the world isn’t going to be easy. It’s going to be an exhausting feat. Performers take it in turn, working up a sweat and becoming breathless. It’s easy for us to sit around and just watch other people do the work for us, but this won’t last forever. Eventually, a bystander, a spectator – in this performance, Alan Lane – volunteers to keep the power on.

One of the qualities that makes this show so appealing is how lovable the cast are. The comedy is sometimes kind of terrible but delivered with such child-like naivety that we can’t help but find ourselves laughing. It feels very self-aware in this respect. The design itself, the DIY-aesthetic with recycled plastics scattered over a tarpaulin, gives the whole thing the feel of a show made by a group of children in a living room. It’s all so innocent. And this does a fine job at juxtaposing the seriousness of the topic at hand. It never shouts at us. It invites us in, makes itself vulnerable by looking a bit foolish, and then educates us. The use of puppetry is brilliant in how clumsy it is. It feels like it could develop really well as a piece of children’s theatre, perhaps to tour around schools, the practicalities of the design meaning it can be setup in any space. But I don’t think children’s theatre can’t be for adults as well. Let us have some fun at the theatre too please!

And just because it’s playful with its politics, this doesn’t restrict its ability to make an audience self-reflect. Keep-cups, tote bags, plastic straws; the things that make us feel good but perhaps don’t actually make a whole lot of difference. Recycling has become trendy. But the trendiness of owning eight or more tote bags won’t actually make a whole lot of difference. And I suppose this is one of the piece’s major flaws. Do we really come away knowing what we can do to make a difference? We’re asked if we would reconsider our thoughts on having children if we knew it could help us save the planet. Besides the abruptness of this provocation, surely we’d all rather make a world for our children that is sustainable, rather than a world with no children at all?

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Image credit: Brett Chapman