David Finnigan's controversial satire about climate change and intergenerational warfare premieres at Griffin
When David Finnigan won a grant to produce a play about climate science, he probably wasn’t expecting to be blasted by right-wing commentators from Andrew Bolt to Alex ‘InfoWars’ Jones before the play had even made it to the stage. But that’s exactly what happened.
Four years on, after a cancelled run in the ACT – and after winning the Griffin Award in 2017 –Kill Climate Deniers is finally making its debut at Griffin Theatre Co. Under the directorship of Lee Lewis, this black comedy is a meta-theatrical commentary on climate denial – and Finnigan’s own experience butting heads with deniers in the process of researching, and trying to stage, the play.
The main plot: extremists take over Parliament House, and demand the country fix climate change or else everyone in the room dies. It’s action-movie silly with a high-octane soundtrack to match. The activists, led by activist Catch (Lucia Mastrantone), face off against Environment Minister Gwen Malkin (Rebecca Massey) and her press advisor Bekken (Sheridan Harbridge). There are 3D-printed weapons and bloody standoffs. The plot is intercut with commentary from Finig (Eden Falk), a representative of the playwright. He counters the frequently-silly plot through fourth-wall-breaking speeches, asides and meta-theatrics (his thoughts flash up on video screens in comic sans). Those screens provide statistics, quotes from alt-right climate deniers, and visual gags to enhance the charmingly messy, lo-fi production style onstage.
With a shock-jock called ‘Jalan Ones’, running jokes about that guy from the ‘80s rock band who went ineffectually into politics (who could it be?!) and a new and catchy jingle (“Are you racist Andrew Bolt?”), this a gleefully anarchic production; riotous but judicious in its attacks. These contrasting elements work together to create a thrilling, almost dangerous theatrical experience where anything could happen, no laugh-line is too weird and we accept an Environment Minister shooting an activist and then posing for Instagram pictures without a second thought.
We don’t often get to see direct political comedy on our stages, or plays that marry the silly with the deeply urgent, and Kill Climate Deniers hits that sweet-spot, filling a Sydney theatre void you may not have realised was empty in the first place. Lewis keeps the madcap fringes of the play on track, building a cohesive world through snappy timing and a ringmaster’s precision over the rest of the creatives – Steve Toulmin’s sound design is pulsating with the same underground-party rhythms and Trent Suidgeest’s lighting and Toby Knyvett’s audiovisual design, all humming with life against the foundation of Jonathan Hindmarsh’s set design.
Massey, Harbridge, Havea, Mastrantone and Falk are all revelling in the layered, comedy-first tone of Kill Climate Deniers; Massey and Harbridge especially are a duo to reckon with as they navigate softball interviews, makeup touch-ups, and escaping from eco-terrorists. It’s a rare performer who can hold equal attention against Harbridge, one our most natural onstage comedians, but Massey more than manages – she’s the implosion to Harbridge’s explosion; you’ll want a buddy-cop sitcom starring the two of them immediately after watching this play.
More deeply, the comic, mile-a-minute approach of Kill Climate Deniers hints at a deeper national truth: that our anxieties about climate change are still something we can’t look at directly; we have to obfuscate, distract, and erase with irony and humour. David Finnigan can only address the reality of our ‘we’re fucked!’ situation without laughter at the end of the piece, where he speaks directly to the audience about the realities of accepting that climate change is real and what must be done about it. It might not be the most educational, full-scale radical approach to theatre, but it’s an important one: it gives us somewhere to place our anxieties, and provides us with a giddy release-valve of laughter and enjoyment.