2071 Royal Court, SW1


It so happened that, on my way to 2071, I had been listening (repeatedly) to Brünnhilde’s Immolation Scene: Wagner’s cataclysmic vision of the end of the world dissolving in purifying fire, flawed humanity and gods with it. So, I was rather in the mood for Armageddon. What I got was more of a science lecture.

2071, by Duncan Macmillan & Chris Rapley, is “a play exploring the future of life on earth and climate change” – or so it claims. I would agree with every word, except the word “play”.  2071 is, in fact, an elegant and succinct overview of the science of climate change, but it is an academic experience, not a dramatic one. Briskly, and with a bewildering battery of statistics throughout, Chris Rapley walks us through the scientific evidence for climate change, the global scientific efforts to track and analyse it, and the human behavioural factors to blame. Effectively, it’s like a guided tour of the coming apocalypse from the relative comfort of your theatre seat, given by an expert whose eminent and pioneering career gives him the gravitas to speak from experience, as well as intellectual prowess in his several fields. Rapley’s grasp of his subject is breathtaking: the concise elegance of his chain of thought, superb. But the overall effect is that of a rather dry, if beautifully reasoned, lecture: and in a warm dark space, at the end of a long day, it is just as soporific as you would expect.

Luke Hall’s wonderful video designs, part informational slides, part atmospheric animations, serve to enhance and clarify Rapley’s words as far as possible. Waves merge beautifully into an image of the globe, which steadily darkens into a view of Antarctica. Grids grow and multiply across the cornered stage to produce three-dimensional laser graphs illustrating the dangerously rising temperature. We also have almost constant soundscapes, designed by Max and Ben Ringham, composed by Paul Clark. But adding visuals and sound effects to a talk does not make it a play. It makes it more like one of those educational videos a tired teacher would show you on a rainy Friday afternoon: worthy, interesting, and wholeheartedly factual.

Prescient observations emerge. “Our infrastructure is not designed to deal with the climate we are provoking. …Science can inform, but it cannot arbitrate: it cannot decide.” Ultimately, Rapley explains, the resolution of climate change is not a scientific question, but a moral one: for governments, for communities, for individuals to choose which parts of the planet they do, or don’t, want to destroy. Here lies the piece’s dramatic problem: it draws together a dazzling array of evidence to provoke the question, but does not actually pose it, nor attempt to answer it. So there’s not so much a dramatic arc, as a dramatic hole.

I applaud and appreciate the intention to bring this science to a wider audience. The Hay Festival has been doing so for years. Still: Wagner’s pyromaniac vision of the end of the world may not be so accurate, but it is far more exciting.


Rating: Two Mice 2 meece rating

At the Royal Court Theatre Jerwood Theatre Downstairs, until 15 November: 020 7565 5000

In co-operation with the Deutsches Schauspielhaus Hamburg


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