Pitlochry Festival Theatre and the Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh
Sunday afternoons are the perfect time for an audio play, a chance to relax and get swept up in the magic of storytelling. However, don’t expect a cosy experience from this new production from Timberlake Wertenbaker. It’s a haunting look at the state of the world, our relationship with nature and the impact of climate change.
In the play we meet Vivian (Georgie Glen), who has moved to an isolated location to be alone. She comes home one day to find someone, or something, in her home. This unwelcome Presence (Saskia Ashdown), whose identity is never made clear, is a haunting character throughout the play. At first she seems human, but this is an assumption by both Vivian and the listener. Both Glen and Ashdown are captivating to listen to, from Vivian’s confusion and increasing frustration, to the eerie and neutral tones of the Presence as she explains humanity’s downfall.
Art shouldn’t shy away from difficult subjects but at times this play feels a little sanctimonious. The Presence in Vivian’s house asks her to write a letter to David Attenborough, because she seems to approve of his humanity. There is also disapproval over Vivian growing plants for pollinators and feeding the birds in her garden, the suggestion being that this personal intervention isn’t enough. And perhaps it’s not. But the Presence is also quick to say that pro-environmental action can’t just be about global corporations or tech billionaires, which feels contradictory. The balance of argument isn’t quite there.
Much of the play focuses on the fact that Vivian is not as alone as she thought, that whatever the Presence represents needs space; that her house is not her own. It is an interesting parallel to the fact that we use and dispose of the planet’s resources as if they are ours alone, and that we haven’t always considered our impact on things we co-exist with, such as wildlife.
The most striking part of this production is the use of sound effects towards the end. It really does feel like the apocalypse has arrived on Vivian’s doorstep. With the consuming sounds of nature and extreme weather, the effect is distressing and unnerving and a reminder of the realities behind the headlines and politics.
At first this play is quite confusing, particularly trying to work out who this Presence is. I wasn’t gripped by the story, yet the ending is incredibly impactful. It’s easy to bury the fear around our planet’s future and this play brings it right back to the forefront of your mind, whether you like it or not.
Who Are You?, plays as part of Sound Stage, and will be available as a livestream 29 – 31 October. Further information and booking via the below link.