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Extinct at Theatre Royal Stratford East | Review

It is, I suppose, called Extinct. The use of shock tactics, however, reminded me of the ‘AIDS: Don’t Die of Ignorance’ public health campaign in the 1980s, with those tombstone television advertisements. Kiran Landa physically has the stage to herself (which is one way of ensuring a production is Following The Rules with regards to social distancing) but hers is one of several voices heard throughout the performance. To begin with, a dystopian portrait of the world in the not too distant future is painted, in which climate change has had such an impact that the amount of food available has reduced to an extent that the UK has reintroduced ration books. You’d have thought there would be an app available for download, but perhaps it is so hot mobile telephones no longer function properly.

Kiran Landa in EXTINCT at Theatre Royal Stratford East. Photo by The Other Richard.
Kiran Landa in EXTINCT at Theatre Royal Stratford East. Photo by The Other Richard.

Had the story carried on and reached some sort of conclusion, however bleak, I might have felt more invested in proceedings. As it was, however, the plot is abandoned in favour of a part-seminar, part-testimonial hybrid. A lady in Bangladesh called Abani talks about her family having to leave the life they knew: her tale is harrowing and does well to make the point that climate change is something that is affecting people’s way of life now. Landa is also given the job of telling the audience what the writer’s research methodology was for the show. What for? If a show has been meticulously researched, this should be evident in the content of the show itself. When a large number of books take centre stage, it’s borderline narcissism, as though April De Angelis, through Landa, was saying, “Look at me! I have educated myself! But you haven’t, so I’m going to tell you what I now know!

Facts and figures are rattled off at more or less the same speed as the Chancellor of the Exchequer announces spending amounts in the annual Budget statement. Somewhat embellished by some overhead projections (one about the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest was particularly memorable), it wasn’t quite ‘death by PowerPoint’ but there was a lot crammed into a one-act production. As Private Frazer used to say in BBC Television’s Dad’s Army, “We’re doomed!

It is very, very gloomy stuff, and I’m not wholly convinced it really needs to be. There could be some positivity put in somewhere. Les Misérables, with at least two dozen on-stage deaths eight times a week, has lines such as “even the darkest night will end, and the sun will rise”. None of that here. Well, there is the slightest glimmer of hope in a throwaway line, “We have the solutions”. I couldn’t possibly say what they are, not because I don’t want to give too much away, but because the audience wasn’t given any detail on the supposed solutions whatsoever. I couldn’t help asking myself: do ‘we’ have the solutions? And if ‘we’ do, why aren’t ‘we’ rolling them out?

I almost laughed out loud when Landa poured a large bottle of oil all over herself, while waxing lyrical about, well, oil. It demonstrated quite how disjointed this play is – it makes the point that the Earth’s precious resources should not be wasted, so why is an entire bottle of oil unnecessarily used for no other purpose than to form trip hazards on stage? Those already well-informed about the climate change movement won’t learn anything new, and anyone who wants to know what they can do about climate change isn’t going to find out by sitting through this production.

It’s a real pity, really, given how pertinent the subject matter is, that an opportunity to encourage audiences to take practical and meaningful actions against the effects of climate change isn’t utilised. Instead, it’s relentlessly dreary and discouraging. I am reminded of Reverend Lovejoy in an episode of The Simpsons, who, after discovering the town of Springfield is to be hit by a comet, announces to his parishioners, “It’s all over, people! We don’t have a prayer!” I’m reasonably certain the likes of Extinction Rebellion and Greta Thunberg would disagree.

2 gold stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

A woman stands alone on stage. She has one hour to change our future. One hour to avert a catastrophe. She’ll give everything she has.

April De Angelis’ urgent new play takes on the climate emergency head on using a tapestry of testimonials from environmental activists.

Written by April De Angelis
Director and Dramaturg Kirsty Housley

Starring Kiran Landa
Written by April De Angelis
Director and dramaturg – Kirsty Housely
Designer – Peter McKintosh
Lighting Designer – Joshua Pharo
Sound Designer – Melanie Wilson
Video Designer – Nina Dunn
Assistant Director – Germma Orleans-Thompson
Design Associate – Alice Hallifax
Associate Sound Designer – Tingying Dong
Video Design Associate – Libby Ward
Supported by Telford Homes.



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