Decommissioned by Molly Anne Sweeney
Is it boring? It’s a dangerous, very dangerous, question for a character to ask in this two-hander about climate change. It’s an important subject, a world-defining subject, and if you’re not aware of the catastrophic implications then – where have you been? So we all know about floods and wildfires and extreme weather and coastal erosion and how we only have decades or years or months or days to live depending on your perspective; so a 70-minute diatribe on the subject has got to be extraordinarily compelling if it’s not going to be… well boring. Unfortunately, however worthy and erudite and factually accurate writer Molly Anne Sweeney’s intentions are, extraordinarily compelling Decommissioned is not.
Set in a school backdrop scenario – first with ten-year-olds and later with fourteen-year-olds – Aled Thomas Davies as Elis attempts to insert some oomph into the vapid script by playing the archetypal (ie read cliché) geography teacher who bandies environmental banter with his charges amongst whom is the inevitable Joyce Grenfell-style misbehaving Mia and the stroppy, know-it-all, old-head-on-young-shoulders Jackson. Elis is supported by Ph.D. student Gwen, an old flame who sees it as her mission to scare the pants off all and sundry – and especially young kids apparently – about the ensuing cataclysmic disaster facing the world in general and their own little coastal Welsh village in particular. Marina Johnson as Gwen gives it her best shot but trying to elucidate climate change to an audience of adults but in school kids’ terms is a dichotomy that is never resolved here. And using the audience as the class means we are never sure whether we should respond and if so – as ourselves or as kids – and are we allowed to ask questions…? So it’s all very half-hearted and adds to the sense of lack of urgency.
As inevitable as coastal erosion itself, old flame becomes, naturally, rekindled flame and so we have the environmental strand complemented by a rather insipid love interest strand which is where the script starts to pall and fall apart. It’s almost as if Sweeney says to herself: I’ve got this environmental catastrophe story here but on its own, it might be a bit boring. So I’ll add a love story – a slightly fractious love story – to relieve the tension (boredom). The love story, clichéd as it is, is sadly just as prosaic.
Director Sofia Bagge is clearly constrained by the dialogue-heavy script but realistically can’t find any spark to set the show alight. Thus she allows it to meander through a kind of somniferous haze of regurgitated facts. The one moment that really grabs the audience is when Elis reads out an essay from his vocally recalcitrant bête noire which is highly critical and brutally honest. It’s a chilling moment and we could do with more of them – the voices of children are often more cut-through on the subject of the world’s continued existence than those of adults. I would have been tempted to start with that scene to grab the audience early.
Yeah, I know what you’re thinking – I’m just an old climate-denying curmudgeon. Not guilty. I drive an electric car, I have solar panels, I’ve re-insulated my house and I was writing environmental plays for children back in the ’nineties. There is a worldwide crisis. So plays about it have to be exciting, not soporific; compelling, not desultory; engaging, not bland. There are clearly good intentions by Wise Ram Theatre here in Decommissioned but the ultimate aim must be to inform and entertain – something that should always be writ large in the Producer’s Handbook.
Review by Peter Yates
‘Cariad, I care about climate change too, but I live in a place where there are three buses a day and I can’t afford a Tesla!’
Elis wants to guide a class of ten-year-olds to become ‘ethical, informed citizens’. Gwen wants to tell the unvarnished truth – in the next 30 years the village they grew up in will be gone.
Inspired by the true story of Fairbourne in Wales, Decommissioned is a funny and confronting play about how we’re meant to care for children, fall in love and stay sane while tackling the climate catastrophe.
Cast & Creative
Gwen Marina Johnson
Elis Aled Thomas Davies
Writer Molly Anne Sweeney
Director Sofia Bagge
Sound Designer James Ireland