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Decommissioned by Molly Anne Sweeney

There have been, over the years, some extraordinary stories about entire properties being moved to stop them from being demolished by contractors working for local councils. The houses themselves are structurally sound, but they are in danger of falling into the sea due to coastal erosion. This, however, is something far beyond that. Gwynedd Council has listed an entire area, including the seaside village of Fairbourne, for decommissioning, at some point in the future, possibly between 2052 and 2062, dependent on rising sea levels. That is to say, it has been decided that it would be more economical to move people away from the area altogether into housing elsewhere, as opposed to maintaining sea defences.

Decommissioned. Photo credit Lidia Crisafulli.
Decommissioned. Photo credit Lidia Crisafulli.

Decommissioned imagines there have been other areas and villages subjected to similar rulings – as Gwen (Marina Johnson) points out, the romantic way of putting it is that the land is being returned to the sea from which it came. More clinically, the local population is going to, at some point, be on the receiving end of compulsory instructions to abandon their homes, and what’s worse, as the play would have it, there is absolutely nothing at all in terms of compensation – in other words, unless the government has a change of heart, or rather gains a heart in the first place, the villagers will need to find somewhere else to live entirely of their own accord. The legality of this policy, let alone its moral dubiousness, is another play for another time, especially as there’s a subplot about a continuing personal relationship between the two central characters.

Still, it is no wonder that Jackson, one of several off-stage pupils under Elis’ (Aled Thomas Davies) charge, is more than a little concerned, to the point that despite being in Year 5, he struggles to maintain his composure on occasion. But the worries are not so much about families being in negative equity as it is about the environmental impact of climate change on a local as well as a global scale. Gwen’s PhD studies into climate change modelling are helpful, inasmuch as her in-depth knowledge of the subject is something Jackson taps into. But even mild-mannered Elis finds her relentless commitment to be environmentally friendly frustrating and overwhelming.

There’s some audience involvement – it would be remiss of me not to mention that, with the audience becoming school pupils in Elis’ classroom: that said, it largely involves sitting quietly and paying attention. Even so, it can be triggering, inasmuch as the production does very well indeed to recreate a classroom setting, and if (like me) you really didn’t like school, it can be a tad uncomfortable, despite Elis’ deployment of more modern and diplomatic de-escalation and behaviour management techniques.

I struggled to maintain a straight face when The Uninhabitable Earth, a book by David Wallace-Wells about global warming, is described as something for grown-ups, in an attempt to dissuade Jackson from reading it – you’d be forgiven for thinking it had pornographic content. The emphasis on predicted future human suffering means, intriguingly, little if anything is said about the plight of other species, which is likely to have played in Jackson’s inquisitive mind. In the end, despite some heavy and depressing content, it’s a good thing for the experiences and thought processes of the younger generation to be expressed on stage. Rightly, the play ends with a positive message, while leaving the audience with plenty of food for thought. A thoughtful and perceptive production.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

‘Cariad, I care about climate change too, but I live in a place where there are three buses a day and I can’t afford a Tesla!’

Elis wants to guide a class of ten-year-olds to become ‘ethical, informed citizens’. Gwen wants to tell the unvarnished truth – in the next 30 years the village they grew up in will be gone.

Inspired by the true story of Fairbourne in Wales, Decommissioned is a funny and confronting play about how we’re meant to care for children, fall in love and stay sane while tackling the climate catastrophe.

Cast & Creative
Gwen Marina Johnson
Elis Aled Thomas Davies
Writer Molly Anne Sweeney
Director Sofia Bagge
Sound Designer James Ireland

https://www.pleasance.co.uk/

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