I have a review of Chris Rapley’s “play”, 2071, over at Breitbart London.
The latest development in the green colonisation of the cultural sphere is the planet-saving stage play. This year, the Royal Court Theatre commissioned Duncan Macmillian and Chris Rapley to adapt for the stage the latter’s concerns about the state of the planet when his eldest granddaughter will be the age he is now, in 2071. That year gives the play its title.
Yes, I actually went to see 2071.
I felt a bit sorry for Rapley at first. He was obviously nervous. And reviews were already saying that the performance was dull (“but important”). But then, I wondered who the hell puts themselves forward for this stuff? What colossal sense of self-importance is required to put oneself on the stage in this way, with nothing new to say?
I was going to discuss the difference between a lecture and a play in the article, but word limit precluded it. So here’s some brief thoughts not from the article.
I was lucky to have some great lecturers at university, and a few dreadful ones. If I was to do my time at uni again (which I would, without a second’s thought), I would choose more of my courses on the strength of the lecturers/seminar tutors. Of course, most arts degrees are dependent on self study. But a good lecture orients your study, lays out the coordinates, the history and the controversies of a subject, and thereby share their interest in something. Although many lecturers take quite strong positions on certain ideas, the best lecturers in my experience, were those who were not only unafraid of other ideas, but welcomed challenges to their own positions.
So my point here is not simply that Rapley’s lecture-play was dry and dull. It failed at being a play, and it failed at being a lecture too. It was more like what I imagine some kind of sermon to be, though, not being religious, I might not have understood the point of sermon’s correctly. Even preaching, I think, involves some element of putting yourself in front of a crowd with the expectation that they may challenge you.
What were the opportunities here, to challenge Rapley? It is true that The Royal Court Theatre have follow up events. But look at them:
DEBATE: CAN BUSINESS EVER BE GREEN?
1.30 – 2.30pm
Simon Graham, Environmental Strategist at Commercial Group, one of the biggest independent companies in the UK; Olivier Lawder, Creative Planner at Futerra, working to deliver sustainability campaigns; Bioregional Programme Manager, Tom Hill and Daniel Turner, Head of Disclosure at CDP.
It will seek to discover how and if business’ can operate commercially whilst lowering their carbon emissions.
DEBATE: CAN THEATRE EVER BE GREEN?
6.00 – 7.00pm
Theatre-makers discuss responsibility towards Climate Change in their work
Speakers: Natalie Abrahami (Theatre Director), Natasha Chivers (Lighting Designer), Alison Tickell (CEO, Julie’s Bicycle) Ben Todd (Executive Director, Arcola Theatre) and Paul Handley (Production Manager, Chair).
Analysing the responsibility to climate change in their work and discussing more environmentally friendly ways of producing theatre.
WORKSHOP: PSYCHOLOGICAL RESPONSES TO CLIMATE CHANGE
11.00am – 12.30pm
Hosted by Paul Hoggett, Chairman of Climate Psychology Alliance from the University of West of England.
An interactive workshop to help audiences come to terms with psychological responses to Climate Change exploring the guilt and ambivalence we feel, and the dilemmas we face around the subject.
WORKSHOP: TRANSITION TOWN
1.00pm – 2.30pm
Transition Town: the power of just doing stuff!
Hosted by Sarah McAdam, Transition Network and Hilary Jennings, co-founder of Transition Town Tooting.
A transition town is a grassroot community project that seeks to build resilience in response to peak oil, climate destruction and economic instability.
Hear more about the spread of the Transition movement internationally, gain inspiration from the action communities are taking to help create a low carbon, socially-just, healthier and happier future and explore how you might get things started in your neighbourhood.
WORKSHOP: AFRO RETRO’S UPCYCLING
3.15 – 4.45pm
UpCycling, is it just a fad or could it be a way of life?
Let team AFRORETRO show you just how easy it is to breathe new life into your old, unwanted stuff.
In this workshop with the help of AFRORETRO; upgrade an old unwanted t-shirt into a one-of-kind, statement infinity scarf.
All materials will be provided but in the spirit of UpCycling please bring a t-shirt, the larger the better.
Sewing skills not necessary however imagination and curiosity a must.
WORKSHOP: WE’RE ON THE ROAD TO NOWHERE
5:15pm – 6:45pm
Hosted by Caralampo Focas, from Oxford University.
Caralampo Focas is an experienced researcher with an established international reputation. For over 25 years he has been writing, consulting and researching into transport, consumer and quality of life themes, expanding the research horizons in methodological, social, economic, comparative and policy issues.
11am – 7pm (15 minute slots throughout the day)
Jane Orton and Tony Wragg will assess your carbon footprint then discuss practical ways to reduce it.
Jane Orton has been working as a psychotherapist for over 20 years. She was formerly a teacher and educationalist, member of a radical theatre group and for a long period lived in a community aiming for sustainability. She is a keen cyclist and tandem rider. She has been involved with Carbon Conversations since 2009 is a Designated Trainer and Community and commercial Facilitator.
Tony Wragg practices as a psychotherapist, but had a quite different earlier career as an engineer and research and development manager. He provides consultancy on technology and intellectual property. He continues a lifelong love affair with the Scottish Highlands and is a passionate on-and-off-road cyclist. He has been involved in Carbon Conversations since 2009 and is a Designated Trainer and Community and Commercial Facilitator.
There is no suggestion in these workshops that the academic can be challenged. Their purpose is instead instruction. You can talk to a psychotherapist about your carbon footprint, or have a group therapy session about your feelings of climate guilt. But there is no opportunity to put to Rapley or his workshop leaders that other perspectives might exist.
The only sense that a question remained unanswered in Rapley’s talk was the question he said science couldn’t answer: “what kind of world do we want to live in”, he asked. But the choice he was offering was only a world in which we did as we had been told, or face ecological Armageddon. His question was rhetorical.
But there is much to take issue with. What struck me was his glib treatment of the facts, in fact. Like many of his kind, for example, Rapley trotted out the “$500 bn a year on fossil fuels” line, that was discussed here a few posts ago.
If the academic hasn’t researched this very simple claim, how much confidence should we have in the rest of his presentation, much less the moral consequences that seem to emerge in consequence?
And there’s the problem in a nutshell. If the environmental argument is protected from interrogation, and is delivered in circumstances that preclude debate, in what sense is it based in science? How can Rapley’s epic appeal to authority be legitimised, when it is presented in such a way as to deprive it of the virtue that legitimises it?
depriving it ‘of the virtue that legitimises it’
My experience of sermons before I plucked up the nerve to tell my parents I didn’t want to go to church any more as a teenager was that questioning was never encouraged. That’s not to say that individual vicars might not have been sympathetic if questions had been raised spontaneously but none ever were and there was certainly no invitation to discuss, let alone be sceptical about, any aspect of the church.
As you hint in your Breitbart review (with the amusing aside about numerical titles – 2071, Ten Billion) environmentalism can’t really do art. Numbers and fact (i.e. documentary) – absolutely, they’ll have plenty of that (and do, interminably). But art, in which we’re normally invited to confront values, nuance, contradiction: not really their thing.
Hence the cringe in green theatre. Unable to settle for the essential uselessness of art, since environmentalist fiction is designed to be useful (to persuade and cajole) it seeks legitimacy and authority instead by palling up with what it imagines to be its bigger and more powerful brother – documentary – and becomes mini-me documentary hoovering in factual content as if that can make up the dramatic deficit.
Necessarily characters then become vessels for messages, plots insultingly cartoonish and eventually after too many bad reviews they do away with old fashioned theatrical categories like plot and character and just stick a professor on with some infoswirls. Scientism isn’t only eating away at politics, but more everyday forms of imagination too. Great review in Breitbart.
Their main function seems to be as some sort of therapist for post-industrial guilt. A couple of rungs up, or one, from Feng Shui for the coffee-table
O.K. Nothing wrong with riding a bike. Does riding a tandem get you into green-heaven?
“Does riding a tandem get you into green-heaven?”
Better, it helps you attain Nirvana. The feel of one pair of feet pedalling is like the sound of one hand clapping – as long as you don’t fall off.
Jane Orton’s comment is typical of the kind of non sequitur Greens excel at. I remember a green starting her question to Sir Martin Rees by saying: “I drive an Aston Martin, but I try and make up for it by keeping bees…”
…in the bonnet, presumably.
“Scientism isn’t only eating away at politics, but more everyday forms of imagination too.”
Excellent observation. Scientists and journalists connive to present science as a branch of show business, as you can see it clearly in the media coverage of the Rosetta landing, which has been treated as an eccentric sporting exploit, instead of as a voyage of scientific discovery.
I have yet to see a science correspondent pose an intelligent question about the extraordinary photos coming back. They’re more interested in the question of whether one scientist’s shirt was sexist.
“I wondered who the hell puts themselves forward for this stuff? What colossal sense of self-importance is required to put oneself on the stage in this way, with nothing new to say?”
There’s a lovely irony here. In a UCL report “Time for Change?”, produced primarily by Rapley himself in June this year, one of the key recommendations is
“Active critical self-reflection and humility when interacting with others should become the cultural norm on the part of all participants in the climate discourse”
Ian Woolley (November 15, 2014 at 4:56 pm)
I had your comment in mind while I forced myself to transcribe a samizdat recording of 2071, especially your last line about “Scientism isn’t only eating away at politics, but more everyday forms of imagination too.”
It’s finished, and can be read at
though I doubt whether anyone will bother.
The weirdest thing to my mind is that Rapley claims that Macmillan wrote it. It’s just not possible that a creative writer had a hand in it. Even as a parody of a very boring person trying to win the Nobel Prize for Boring it doesn’t work. Not only has every form of imagination been squeezed out of it, there’s not an ounce of science in it either.
The only thing that turns Rapley on it seems is data collection. I’ve done that, centuries ago when I worked in market research. Rapley musing on the ice core melting in his hand is about as interesting as me thrilling to the first sheaf of questionnaires I received from an interviewer who’d been interrogating housewives about their preferred washing powder in a shopping mall in Slough.
There is not an ounce of science in Rapley’s hour-long discourse, not a single example of scientific reasoning. Merely facts facts facts gradgrinding his audience of Sloane Square doom cultists into willing submission. Orwell imagined a future of being stamped on by a jackboot – forever. Macmillan and Rapley have gone one better in creating a world where Guardian readers will pay fifteen quid to be hit over the head with the Guinness Book of Records and like it.