(i feel fine) opens with a metaphor: a hypothetical world, half black daisies and half white, in which this eternally perfect balance has just tipped in favour of one kind. If climate change scientists are correct, there should be a similar moment, a tipping point at which we know we’ve fucked it and it’s too late to go back, and we can’t do anything about it. It’s in this strange hinterland that playwright Joe White sets (i feel fine), and although the characters very rarely discuss the mechanics of the coming apocalypse, we know, and they know, that the end is coming at some point.
White has clearly done his research, but feels no need to overload the play with superfluous facts and figures in order to prove it – his writing is more calmly assured than that, and a more emotive appeal too. So instead of facts,we get Tim and Daisy, who meet for the first time on ‘Daisy Day’ – just past the two degrees tipping point, or whatever you want to call it.
Daisy wants to get drunk, which seems fair enough, and that’s how she bumps into Tim. They end up back at hers, and spend the night together. Boy meets girl, so far so normal, but what’s the point getting to know somebody or falling in love when the world’s ending?
As Tim and Daisy (by the way, can somebody please find out if the names are a deliberate thing or not and let me know? Thanks), Will Howard and Sophie Steer are completely in command of White’s funny high-naturalism. The stilted awkwardness of the morning after the night before is particularly brilliant, awkwardness that isn’t really about the intimacy of having slept with a stranger so much as waking up after the beginning of the end of the world with one.
You can have too much of a good thing – the next scene spins on just as uncomfortably, and things do reach a fever-pitch of awkwardness that’s difficult to maintain without it feeling one-note. It’s a relief when they start having normal conversations. But White, and Fat Git Theatre Company, have found a very human way of looking at an intractable problem, and of doing so with a charm that makes these unspeakably big and terrifying issues feel relevant to the small, quiet realities of all our lives.
It’s an understated little apocalypse Fat Git have invited us to, in which things go on mostly as normal because nobody knows what else to do, but get worse in small, not inconceivable ways, and mostly for people we can’t see. Tim and Daisy are secure and separate from the rabble, occupied entirely by each other, like most people who are young and in love, and secluded from the world and all its miseries. Quite literally, though; Tim casually mentions his investment in increased security to keep their flat safe from the ‘starvers’ in the park around the corner.
These little snatches of pure horror only work to bring the realism of the love story into a kind of relief; it’s familiar and normal, and it’s also not. There are things working away at the edges the whole time, until you begin to realise you’re looking at a dystopian apocalypse that’s actually taken the class system into account beyond just ‘the rich’ and ‘the poor’. This is a horror story curled up inside a love story, or vice versa, and it all feels so horribly possible – as well as clever and well-performed – that I can even forgive White for inadvertently making Tim feel a bit creepy at the beginning.
Daisy’s not ambiguous or unclear when she says she has no interest in Tim and wants to be left alone. And this may be an enviro-apocalypse rom-com but, you know, rom, so it’s obvious to us that she’s either lying or about to change her mind – but that doesn’t make Tim’s refusal to take her at her word (or his insistence on turning up at her house all the time) any less unsettling. Sometimes people think their behaviour is romantic when it, you know…isn’t.
Still, it’s a small misstep in what is generally a hugely impressive piece of writing, and Howard and Steer have enough chemistry to keep you caring about and believing in these characters throughout. (i feel fine) is a fascinating glimpse into a future that feels all too possible, using climate change to consider the things that, as Chris Rapley says, it is really about: ‘what sort of world we want to live in and what kind of future we want to create.’