Home » Reviews » Greenland, National Theatre

Greenland, National Theatre

Moira Buffini, Matt Charman, Penelope Skinner & Jack Thorne
Directed by Bijan Sheibani

Courtesy of National Theatre
Climate change is no longer a controversial topic. The vast majority of people agree that it is a reality, and know that in the future it could create irreversible damage. This makes it hard to write a script to challenge viewpoints and stimulate debate on the subject – all that such scripts can achieve is to further raise awareness about the problem. However, since everybody knows what the problem is already, it is hard to see any point in writing plays about it in the first place!

Politically-motivated productions are risky. They are often written and staged to be deliberately challenging, to instil debate and to allow producing houses to be seen as ‘edgy’. There is nothing wrong with this; theatre should certainly challenge us and stimulate debate (as Brecht would say). However, productions that do this must be impartial, and choose topics that are controversial. If they do not stick to these rules, they become patronising, and the audience will end up yawning and thinking ‘heard it all before’. Unfortunately for the National Theatre’s Greenland, that is exactly what happened.

Greenland’s script was devised by a panel of four comprising Moira Buffini, Matt Charman, Penelope Skinner and Jack Thorn. The result of this collaboration is a hugely disappointing, very long (two hours without an interval), very boring and deeply confused script. It is half fiction, half non-fiction. There are no identifiable characters, but rather a serious of people whose roles never become fully apparent (they are more like talking heads than characters). Those that do become apparent are dreadfully clichéd – the nutty climate professor that preaches warnings from a remote cave that nobody listens to until it is too late; the public sector worker who doesn’t want to bring a child into our doomed world. To make matters worse, a lot of the language is stylised and subsequently frustrating. All in all, it comes across as very much ‘student drama’, desperately trying to be controversial and abstract, but actually coming across as pretentious and preachy.

The acting was average. There were no standout performances, but this was mostly due to the lack of any real characters. To give them credit, most of the actors did the best they could with a weak script. The only specific moment that I can remember was the appearance of a polar bear on stage. Although it was bizarrely realistic, it still made for a slightly cringing moment as the audience struggled to suspend their disbelief to such an extreme level. On the other hand, it provided a ray of entertainment in an otherwise dull production.

The only redeeming factors of Greenland were its production values. The production design by Bunny Christie was imaginative and engaging in places. There was a delightful curtain of rain across the front of the Lyttleton’s proscenium arch at one point, which was beautifully lit by Jon Clark’s lighting design. Another strong moment came when a series of manuscripts dropped dramatically from the rafters and landed on the stage in perfect harmony. However, the design’s showpiece came when two large fans blew all the confetti that accumulated in large heaps on the stage during the production out across the auditorium, which was fully lit up for this moment of glory. Unfortunately however, I turned around from my stalls seat to look up into the gallery, and subsequently saw two badly hidden technical staff frantically chucking handfuls of confetti off the technical gantry, which rather ruined this potentially feel-good moment!

Greenland will go down as another of those failed productions with a serious message. It comes across as a patronising lecture, and you will leave the auditorium feeling sleepy and slightly depressed. The script does not fully get to grips with any of the real issues, and there is nothing particularly original or controversial in there to argue with. Perhaps if the writers had addressed some of the more divisive climate change scepticism arguments then this could have been different, but in reality Greenland is a bad script made better by some imaginative special effects.

Greenland runs at the National Theatre until 2nd April 2011.
Box Office: 020 7452 3000 or book online at www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

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