Get us in your inbox


‘Walden’: Gemma Arterton is great in this bold eco-parable

  • Theatre, Drama
Walden, Harold Pinter Theatre, 2021
Photo by Johan PerssonGemma Arterton (Stella), Lydia Wilson (Cassie)

Time Out says

Arterton and the brilliant Lydia Wilson star as Nasa scientist sisters in a gutsy climate change sci-fi

How wonderful to be back in a theatre to see a play that reminds us that there’s more to life than the pandemic: there’s apocalyptic climate change too!

‘Walden’ is the debut play by US writer Amy Berryman, plucked from obscurity by director Ian Rickson to open the three-play Re:Emerge season at the Harold Pinter, which he’s curated for producer Sonia Friedman. 

It’s entirely set in a cabin somewhere deep in the American wilderness, where Gemma Arterton’s highly-strung Stella is in a state of agitation as she and her boyfriend Brian (Fehinti Balogun) prepare for the arrival of her sister Cassie (Lydia Wilson), who has never met or, indeed, heard of Brian.

Cradled in the naturalistic warmth of Azusa Ono’s delicate, dewy lighting, Stella and Brian at first seem like a couple of regular Yanks living in rural isolation in the present day. But it slowly becomes apparent that this is the future. Earth has been brought to the brink by climate change and there’s now a sharp societal divide between governments who see the future of humanity as off-world and the surging Earth Advocates political movement – of which Brian is a member – which believes colonies on the Moon and Mars are an obscene waste of resources when we should make a concerted effort to salvage our home planet. Cassie is a hotshot Nasa botanist who has just returned from a year on the Moon. And Stella was a Nasa architect until she left under a cloud. Both live in the shadow of their late father, a legendary astronaut.

If some of this sounds kind of gauche: it is! But Berryman’s lack of self-consciousness in penning a serious-minded sci-fi play about climate change is ultimately pretty bracing – it’s difficult to write an eco-drama without sounding a bit preachy, but maybe that puts off more writers than it should.

Arterton is the biggest name here, and she is compelling – albeit often wilfully infuriating – as Stella, a deeply emotional woman incapable of talking about her feelings. Everything has a triggering subtext to her, and her moods are as turbulent and unpredictable as the Earth’s shattered weather systems. Balogun is boomingly likeable as Brian, even if the role is a bit slight. But it’s Lydia Wilson who really makes ‘Walden’ worthwhile. Following colossal recent turns as Kate Middleton (in Mike Bartlett’s ‘King Charles III’) and the Duchess of Malfi (both at the Almeida), here her Cassie is wan and full of doubts, tormented by a sense of duty that draws her to a life she hates. It’s a performance that never feels actorly – every word, every hesitation seems real and true and heartfelt. In many ways, you believe ‘Walden’ because you believe Wilson.

There are holes you could poke in the plot: the main one, I thought, was that it seemed unclear why so many people seemed to think the Moon and Mars – aka balls of dead rock – had more to offer than even a really messed up Earth. But it’s a play of ideas, chosen specially for this comeback season and, even if it’s a bit rough in places, Rickson and his crack team really sell it to you.

Andrzej Lukowski
Written by
Andrzej Lukowski


£10-£49.50. Runs 1hr 45min (no interval)
You may also like
You may also like
Bestselling Time Out offers