By Jesse Price
Ryan King’s environmental satire Green Alert certainly sets a high bar for DDF 2020. Dealing with the threat of global nuclear destruction posed by a group of eco-activists, it is difficult to imagine a more arresting opening to an evening of student theatre: leaving the audience not only with a charged sense of indignation and social responsibility but also that they have thoroughly enjoyed themselves for the past forty minutes.
Confident, original and penetrating
Confident, original and penetrating, the writing is something we should be immensely proud to attribute to Durham’s own. The intermittent and effective interweaving of the serious and the comedic works well within this particular topic, helping to tackle weighty issues whilst still keeping the audience very much engaged. For example, the monosyllabic explanation provided by Walker for why the scientists aren’t right when they announce their statistic on climate change: ‘communism’, or the conclusion of Dijkstra and the Administrator hooking up under the boardroom table in attempt to put their last five minutes in the world to good use.
The piece also brings various environmental issues to the fore; our relationship with China, for example, and the problem of guiding developing countries towards development without further Industrial Revolutions. However, the most resonant message is that individual everyday actions are in fact the most sustainable and affective hope for the planet, even within the context of a global nuclear terror attack, drawing attention to just how momentous and important a continual personal environmental effort can be. However, perhaps it could be mentioned that so many ideas being explored in a mere forty minutes was a touch overwhelming, and maybe it would have been more impactful to have fewer, more in-depth explorations of environmental issues.
Opens with immediate energy
Gratifyingly, the crisp and persuasive script is performed with clarity and potency also, thanks to the direction of Owen Kennedy and Ryan King. The play opens with immediate energy as General Walker and the Administrator burst into the boardroom, establishing a strong sense of the power dynamics between the two. Indeed, the particular chemistry between actors Howe and Rozanski is compelling throughout. The characters at the scene are all effectively blow into caricatures of well-known tropes, but one undoubtedly outshines the rest. Charlie Howe’s portrayal of General Walker is captivatingly uproarious, combining expressive gestures with the strength of King’s dialogue and an effortlessly gruff voice to richly capture the essence of the military patriarch.
At first, Sammy French’s President seems to stand at a distance from the rest of the characters, making it difficult to decipher what he was bringing to the table. However, it soon becomes clear that this is a scathing satire on the inadequacy, and indeed stupidity of modern-day politicians. His winning childlike characterisation included touches such as the distracted wandering of his gaze, playing with his pen, scrunching up his face in concentration, absent-mindedly helping himself to tea, and a brilliant moment where he read verbatim the handwritten queues of his Vice President whilst on the phone to the President of China. Furthermore, there were some brilliantly delivered one-liners by French such as ‘I don’t want to take everyone’s favourite meal away’ and the moment when, suddenly compelled by a sudden sense of his position and a need to speak, stands, only then to declare ‘I have nothing to say’.
Grace Calder superbly played the role of Abi Elena, a physical enactment of the terrorist video which explains the purpose for the meeting: the threat of triggering immediate nuclear Armageddon posed by a group of eco-activist if the US and other global governments don’t clean up their acts regarding Climate Change. This aspect is immersive, Elena rising from and walking through the audience, contemptuously shining a flashlight in people’s faces as if in an attempt to expose their hypocrisy and distributing handouts whilst relevant and poignant clips play on the screen behind. Calder indignation is brilliantly carried-through, clearly setting out the character as someone lucid and reasonable in spite of her villainous plot.
The one aspect which lets the piece down was, despite the fact that they were experienced professionals, the tone of both the boardroom’s original reaction to the threat and the ensuing atmosphere, seems slightly disproportionate with the crisis at hand. Simply put, atmospherically, the stakes just aren’t high enough. That being said, the tension at the table does indeed develop as the piece went on, instead as a response to the frustration of each individual at not having their ideas properly appreciated or considered, rather than to the fear of the catastrophe posed.
Intelligence and brightness of the script
King’s ‘Green Alert’ showcases deft and professional performances by all involved, and the intelligence and brightness of the script and direction cannot be understated. There are still opportunities to see the performance at the Mark Hillery Arts Centre at Collingwood as part of DDF General Programme 3 on Friday at 7.30pm and Saturday at 2.00pm, an important and vigorous piece of theatre well-worth catching.