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Dawn King’s The Trials at the Donmar Warehouse

Dawn King’s new play is set sometime in the future when ‘climate change’ has made the world almost uninhabitable. The premise appears to be that those who ignored all the warnings for many years and continued to use cars, aircraft, eat meat and dairy products etc are being prosecuted and summarily “euthanised” if found guilty of making the world unfit for their children. The jurors are young people, teenagers even, the ones most affected by the actions (or non-actions) of their elders.

Joe Locke, Taya Tower and Rue Millwood in THE TRIALS - Donmar Warehouse - photo Helen Murray.
Joe Locke, Taya Tower and Rue Millwood in THE TRIALS – Donmar Warehouse – photo Helen Murray.

The play shows us three trials, each beginning with the person being prosecuted making a lengthy statement which is listened to by the jury before a verdict is reached. Nigel Lindsay, Lucy Cohu and Sharon Small are very effective in trying to justify, or not, their previous actions regarding ‘global warming’ but what they are given to say is rather superficial and what we would expect them to say: perhaps that is what the playwright intended!

The twelve members of the jury are mostly making their professional acting debuts, over 1300 young people having been involved in shaping the play from scratch as well as 200 of them taking part in workshops as part of the Donmar Local initiative. It must have been very difficult for King to try to ensure that each young actor is able to build a believable role, especially in the 90-minute running time of the play. In this, she mostly succeeds, though, as in life, it is the quieter, less forthright characters about whom we get to know the least.

Honor Kneafsey is very powerful as Ren, who almost appoints herself as ‘foreman’ of the jury. She has a confidence that is very believable in one so young and is able to convey emotion subtly. Jairaj Varsani as Adnan is, by contrast, very quiet, yet every word can be heard. Pelumi Ibiloye (Marek) has terrific energy and Joe Locke(Noah) uses his height to create authority when he needs to.

Elise Alexandre (Amelia) exhibits a very expressive face, whilst Jowana El-Daouk is very irritating in their role as Gabi, even if at times clearer enunciation would help. Francis Dourado is most persuasive in the role of Mohammad and William Gao (Xander) impresses whenever the script gives him opportunities.

Rue Millwood is delightful in the role of Chris – we all know a teenager like him! – and Meréana Tomlinson exhibits a youthful maturity and intelligence which is refreshing in the various discussions which take place. Charlie Reid (Tomaz) and Taya Tower (Zoe) complete this jury of extremely competent protagonists, all of whom make the most of King’s play.

However, most praise must go to Natalie Abrahamie who has used great imagination in her staging and pacing of The Trials. However, even she has not been able to do much with the melodramatic final scene: one gets the feeling that Dawn King did not know how to end the play – perhaps, with the benefit of live production, this may be rewritten before the script is published, and before schools and youth groups begin work on it!

The play says little which is new, and rarely begins to do more than skim the surface of the ‘climate change’ debate, but I found that time passed quickly and gave food for thought.

3 Star Review

Review by John Groves

It’s easy for you to accuse me now but you don’t understand. Everyone lived like we did! Well maybe not everyone, everyone. But… I wasn’t any worse than anyone else.

The near future.

The climate crisis is unfolding and our generation is being judged.

The jurors? Children. But are they delivering justice, or serving revenge?

In this searing new play by Dawn King, the next generation of talent star alongside leading actors, directed by Natalie Abrahami.

A Donmar Local Production: identifying talent of the future and proudly platforming them and the issues that matter.

The Trials received its world première at the Düsseldorfer Schauspielhaus in 2021, and was a finalist for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize. The Trials Young Assistants’ Programme is generously supported by the Backstage Trust.

Jurors: Elise Alexandre, Francis Dourado, Jowana El-Daouk, Will Gao, Pelumi Ibiloye, Honor Kneafsey, Joe Locke, Rue Millwood, Charlie Reid, Meréana Tomlinson, Taya Tower, Jairaj Varsani.
Defendants: Lucy Cohu, Nigel Lindsay, Sharon Small

12 August 2022 – 27 August 2022
By Dawn King

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  • John Groves

    John Groves studied singing with Robert Easton and conducting with Clive Timms. He was lucky enough to act in the British premiere of a Strindberg play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe more years ago than he cares to remember, as well as singing at the Royal Opera House - once! He taught drama and music at several schools, as well as examining the practical aspects of GCSE and A level drama for many years. For twenty five years he has conducted a brass band as well as living on one of the highest points of East Sussex surrounded by woodland, deer, foxes and badgers, with kites and buzzards flying overhead.

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