MIKE Bartlett’s ‘Earthquakes in London’ premiered at the National’s Cottesloe Theatre back in 2010.
This was of course pre-teenage Swedish activist Greta Thunburg’s apocalyptic tidings – for which Bartlett must be immensely grateful in giving his epic tale more relevance and a new theatrical lease of life today.
James Lees directs this Birmingham Ormiston Academy Year 13 production with great gusto and uses the script that moves from 1968 to 2525 as a blank canvas to throw everything at it from the physical to the surreal, embracing ballet and buffoonery along the way.
If Lees had budget to match his ambitions, then the technical effects would probably have huge carbon footprints all over it, making Greta gnash her molars. As it is, he has to be content to work with basic staging and properties and rely on the talents of his cast to join up the dots. They don’t let him down!
The plot follows three sisters Sarah, Freya, and Jasmine played by Daniella Burridge, Abby Doubtfire, and Megan (No not that one) Murphy respectively, as they attempt to navigate their dislocated lives and loves.
Their back stories are played out alongside that of their dysfunctional father (Matthew Rousseau), a brilliant scientist, predicts global catastrophe through environmental disaster but takes corporate bucks rather than spilling the beans.- therein lays the path to personal self destruction.
Elder sister Sarah is a Cabinet Minister in a coalition government and a convert advocate of ‘environment before economy’ policy, middle sister Freya is heavily pregnant and growing increasingly depressed about the uncertain future her child is being born into, whilst Jasmine the youngest sibling, is a rebellious teenager who likes to shock.
Bartlett’s script is not without flaws; it is more than a tad over complicated, long, bitty and flitty – moving as it does back and forth in time and story lines. On the plus side outside of the main theme of climate change the play admirably offers interesting takes on other difficult topics, including suicide.
‘Earthquakes in London’ is though, very much a play for today, which is tackled commendably in this production. The company work as one – maintaining the pace throughout and being mindful of fellow actors, always sharing not dominating the space.
Whilst there were no weak links, special shout outs from me go to the very watchable Daniella Burridge for her complete believability as Sarah and to Bella Christon for her engaging and charismatic portrayal of tomboy Peter.
I read that there is a national professional tour production due to take off within weeks – I hope the director got to see this excellent BOA show and took some notes.
Review by Euan Rose.