Maverick director Katie Mitchell’s last show for the Royal Court was ‘Ten Billion’, an apocalyptic hour of facts and figures that ended with scientist Stephen Emmott suggesting that, in the absence of the political will to prevent catastrophe, his only practical advice to the next generation was to learn to fire a gun.
‘2071’ is ostensibly another theatrically souped-up lecture on how screwed the planet is, but it’s rather more sober than its predecessor.
That’s mostly down to the man delivering it. Plonked static in a chair and droning of voice, UCL professor of climate science Chris Rapley is far less theatrical than the pacing, limping, darkly muttering Emmott. This is not a bad thing: sobriety feels important when tackling such an emotive topic. In a little over an hour, Rapley explains in as near to layman’s terms as possible – the show is co-written by playwright Duncan Macmillan – exactly how the greenhouse effect and global warming work, how the climate has changed in the age of man, and about the latest scientific findings on the subject.
Despite the title – which refers to the year Rapley’s eldest grandchild will be the age he is now – the scientist almost fastidiously abstains from speculation about the future, stating only that the global community has decided that a two degree rise in global temperatures – which we’re now 0.8 of a degree into – has been judged a point of no return for our current way of life.
As a lecture, ‘2071’ strikes me as pretty essential viewing if you want a sensible overview on what is happening to our planet. It’s also – no getting away from this – so dense with facts and figures and so monotonously delivered as to occasionally verge on boring, regardless of its considerable importance.
As a result it’s less harrowing than ‘Ten Billion’. Indeed, I found its dryness oddly comforting – in some ways, what mankind is doing to the Earth feels insignificant to what it’s done to itself in the past; we’re faced more with a philosophical question on whether or not we wish to preserve our own species.
Which may not sound comforting, but there’s something very beautiful and peaceful about the theatricality of Mitchell’s production: thanks to Luke Halls’ stunning videos, Rapley appears to float in an elegant monochrome wonderland of maps and figures, luminous as the planet itself.