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39 Degrees by RedBellyBlack Theatre at the Vault Festival | Review

39 Degrees - Photo Credit Andrew James
39 Degrees – Photo Credit Andrew James

Thursday 25th July 2019 was the day I recall sitting in the office, melting as the mercury hit something close to forty degrees Celsius (I think in the end it was somewhere around 38.5 degrees). An ice-cream van close by was chiming away rather vigorously, but clearly was getting very little, if any, trade: getting an ice cream would involve going outside, which hardly anybody was prepared to do in the middle of the day. But that was one day in London, and by the following morning, the temperature had dropped considerably, even if the London Underground remained extremely uncomfortable.

It all pales into relative insignificance compared to the seventy-four days that the fires burned in Australia, as bushfires raged on and on from mid-November 2019 until the rain brought relief in February 2020. Kate Goodfellow and Ruth Newbery-Payton tell a brisk and fast-paced story, as personal as much as it is political. I have no qualms with them tearing into Scott Morrison, the Australian Prime Minister, and other members of the government, for their (lack of) response to the crisis, which left a large number of homes and other buildings destroyed, with an estimated one billion animals killed and some species feared extinct. But I do wish they had suggested alternatives – who would have done it better? Presumably almost anyone, in their view, but it would have been nice to have found out whom specifically.

Due to the strong emotions that may have been triggered by the very real content of the production, it is worth mentioning what I call an open-door policy: if, in all seriousness, it gets a bit much for anyone, it is possible to leave at any point, no questions asked, and to return at any point, without having to do the usual thing of waiting for a suitable point in the performance to do so. What becomes evident – and what makes this production so engaging, despite it being about something that very many people will be aware of, is the exploration of the psychological impact of the fires.

A repeated phrase, “I’m okay, you’re okay, we’re okay, okay”, aside from being repetitive, was both true and untrue at the same time: they were and are, of course, perfectly fine – it is not as if they are bed-bound. But reading between the lines, it is equally obvious that it is not business as usual, and everything is not tickety-boo. And then there was this: “Sometimes the healing hurts more than the wound.” Well, sometimes it does.

The script meanders, and why not? I wouldn’t want to see an entire show in which people talk about nothing but the weather. It comes across at times as a stream of consciousness, as these characters are genuinely going through life one day at a time. The lighting is excellent, and there’s even a moment or two of choreography to the sound of – wait for it – ‘Firestarter’, the 1996 hit by British band The Prodigy. The descriptions of events are detailed and highlight things that aren’t considered in news reports: a night-time power cut, for example, would ordinarily mean the stars would be visible, but they weren’t because of the sheer amount of smoke and fire. A fascinating and charming account of a devastating Australian summer.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

It’s July 25th 2019. It’s hot, too hot!
The metaphorical gates of hell have opened for new Prime Minister Boris Johnson, so screw it, let’s extend our overdraft limits for a cheeky pint.

‘I’ve had a week that even Craig David would shy from writing a song about, and now it’s just too fuck’n hot’.

A bold, physical and frankly piping hot piece of new writing. A dark comedy about friendship, fear and a fucker of a week.

Two 39 Degrees days, 25th July 2019 London and 31st December 2019 Australia. Two houses are burning down, one is ours and one is mine

VAULT Festival Award Winners RedBellyBlack Theatre present ’39 degrees’.

Creative Team:
Kate Goodfellow Actor-Writer / Sound Designer / Producer
Alistair Wilkinson Director / Dramaturg
Ruth Newbery-Payton Actor / Co-creator
Lauren Budd Assistant Director / Stage Manager
Grace Blackman Shadow Director
Joseph Ed Thomas Lighting Designer
James Ratcliffe Sound Associate
Chris Gibbs Set Builder
Andrew James Rehearsal and Production Photographer

39 Degrees
RedBellyBlack Theatre
Vault Festival
10-15th March 2020
https://vaultfestival.com/

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