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Book Review: 100 Plays to Save the World

By Elizabeth Freestone and Jeanie O’Hare

By Elizabeth Freestone and Jeanie O’Hare While for many a visit to the theatre is a chance to escape reality, for others it is a platform for protest, for challenging politics and provoking difficult questions. Elizabeth Freestone and Jeanie O’Hare’s book is a guide to 100 plays from around the world, covering all aspects of the climate emergency. It consists of 100 short essays exploring how the plays speak to the climate crisis, split into 11 chapters, from Destruction and Extinction to Fightback and Hope. This book could easy be dry, without the action playing out in front of…

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Excellent

A brutally honest collection of essays demonstrating the power theatre has to predict, dissect and shout about the climate emergency.

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While for many a visit to the theatre is a chance to escape reality, for others it is a platform for protest, for challenging politics and provoking difficult questions. Elizabeth Freestone and Jeanie O’Hare’s book is a guide to 100 plays from around the world, covering all aspects of the climate emergency. It consists of 100 short essays exploring how the plays speak to the climate crisis, split into 11 chapters, from Destruction and Extinction to Fightback and Hope. This book could easy be dry, without the action playing out in front of us and the scripts to delve into, but it is anything but. It is an engaging and stimulating delve into the breadth of incredible playwriting out there that can contribute to the fight of activists around the world.

This book doesn’t shy away from including plays that will shock and disturb their audience, and those that will make the audience squirm in their seat. It is a call to arms – to produce work that challenges and in many ways champions the work of young activists. Don’t Worry, Be Happy by Kevin Dyer assures older members of the audience that they won’t be made to feel guilty and promises a song about a polar bear – “that’s what audiences want from climate change theatre, right?”. Dawn King’s The Trial allows young people to put elders on trial, and in doing so it raises interesting questions – do we deserve the death penalty for only doing what we thought was enough at the time.

If you were to predict when most of the plays included in this collection were written, something from 420BC wouldn’t immediately spring to mind. In the chapter on Migration, one of the world’s oldest plays, The Suppliant Women by Aeschylus (new version by David Greig) is remarkably prescient to today’s problems, as it follows a group of refugees across the Mediterranean. Children of the Sun by Maxim Gorky from 1905 is also triggering today, in our current world of the pandemic and where misinformation is rife. It is fascinating to discover older plays that chime so shockingly with the reality we are now living through.

In this collection you will discover plays that were unfamiliar to you, but also many that are known but presented in a new light. Particularly older classics that perhaps haven’t been considered through the climate change lens. Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days from 1948 leaves itself open to many interpretations. Yet by considering the consumerism presented by the objects scattered around Winnie buried in the sand, and the fact that the average person owns 300,000 objects across their lifetime, the play takes on a new meaning.

I wish I was a theatre producer, if I was, I would immediately start work on several of the excellent plays in this book. I’d use it to devise challenging and thought-provoking art. Or you could simply take my lead and work your way through this fascinating collection, learning more about the crisis we are living through and anticipating the potential disasters heading our way.

Authors: Elizabeth Freestone and Jeanie O’Hare
Published by: Nick Hern Books

100 Plays To Save The World is available now to purchase as either a paperback or ebook. Available from all your usual book sellers, or via Nick Helm Books via the below link.

About Lily Middleton

Lily currently works for a gardening magazine, so spends her days writing about plants. When not stretching her green fingers, she can be found in a theatre or obsessively crafting. Her love of theatre began with musicals as a child, Starlight Express at the Apollo Victoria being her earliest memory of being completely entranced. She studied music at university and during this time worked on a few shows in the pit with her violin, notably Love Story (which made her cry more and more with each performance) and Calamity Jane (where the gunshot effects never failed to make her jump). But it was when working at Battersea Arts Centre at the start of her career that her eyes were opened to the breadth of theatre and the impact it can have. This solidified a life-long love of theatre, whether in the back of a pub, a disused warehouse or in the heart of the West End.