In her most recent book, Naomi Klein writes about the psychological pull of denial in the face of devastating climate change. We know that the planet’s climate is on track for catastrophic change – we accept that it’s happening – yet still we go about our business as though the sky weren’t about to fall in on our heads. It’s a curious kind of cognitive dissonance; heads buried in sand on a global scale.
Current Location stages just that denial. Adapted from Toshiki Okada’s script by FellSwoop Theatre, the show offers a strange, oblique metaphor for climate destruction. In a small, sleepy village in the middle of who-knows-where, disaster is foretold. There are rumours about a mysterious glowing cloud and a prophecy that the village is to be obliterated. In the midst of gossip and anxiety, a choir of four women attempt to carry on as usual, until a mysterious stranger suddenly infiltrates their close circle.
The menace of this unsettling scenario seeps into every last corner of the ominously named Dissection Room at Summerhall. Ben Osborn’s music hums beneath the action throughout, its strains dissonant and haunting. From the very first moment, the whole space feels on edge, the careful calm of the protagonists clothing latent fear and concern. Slowly, questions begin to be asked. What is it that’s going on? Can these really just be rumours? Shouldn’t something be done?
At first, the vague strangeness of the setting is intriguing, while the real world parallels are clear. As doubts mount, the leader of the choir pulls a heavy black curtain down over the windows that look onto the changing world outside, an emphatic gesture of denial. How many times have we drawn our own metaphorical curtains?
But FellSwoop Theatre never move much beyond nebulous menace. The metaphorical resonances, once established, fail to develop. The muted performances, meanwhile, eventually lose their initial curiosity and start to feel simply lacklustre. There’s also an attempt to make the audience experience an immersive one, perhaps to implicate us further within the catastrophe being alluded to, but this too is under-developed. Beyond being offered tea and cake on our way in and receiving occasional looks from the cast, we’re as ignored as we would be behind a fourth wall.
“Why are we making a play about this?” demands one of the characters as they channel their repressed concerns into a play for the local community. She looks around at the whole room, eyeballing us. Why are we bothering with theatre about climate change when we could actually be doing something about it? It’s a valid question, but one that FellSwoop struggle to answer. It’s the same problem that afflicted 2071 in its admission of the carbon emitted in its making. Making us complicit in our species’ failure is all very well, but what’s the point? What can possibly justify us all sitting here, pumping more emissions into the atmosphere while the world falls apart around us?
Certainly not Current Location. FellSwoop Theatre do well at creating a creeping sense of unease, but unease is not enough. If we’re to collectively wrench our heads out of that inviting sand, we’ll need something more compelling than this.