young jurors hold adults accountable for the climate crisis in The Trials

young jurors hold adults accountable for the climate crisis in The Trials

In 2019, playwright Dawn King booked flights to New York for a residency as a writer. It was the day of the first major UK school strikes for the climate, a movement started by Greta Thunberg in Sweden. Checking her news feeds, King – who wanted to join the protests – found she had forgotten about it. She winces at the memory.

“I was like, ‘Wow, you think you’re so green, so liberal, but you’re not helping, are you? In the future, you will be judged just as harshly as everyone else. what are you actually do?’”

So King did what she does best: the script that came about and was mostly put together during the early lockdowns of 2020 was The Trials, which premiered at Donmar in London this month. The play imagines a world several decades in the future where a group of people are on Nuremberg-style trial for their guilt in the climate crisis. How many flights did you take? Did you eat meat? Sure, they’ve been recycled, but so what? Penalties for exceeding personal carbon allowances are severe; The judges are played by teenagers who inherited the mess. The accused are clearly proxies for the rest of us who messed around while Rome (and many other places) burned.

The Trials is a “thought experiment,” King explains, but part of what makes this blame game so terrifying is that this is a future that’s closer than we care to believe. In the play, the young judges debate whether it’s safe to open a window because it’s so hot and dirty outside. Rehearsals began on the day the UK Met Office issued its first red extreme heat warning. On the afternoon I visit, wildfires are raging again in California, and hundreds in Germany and the Czech Republic are being evacuated. As extreme as the scenario is, The Trials is hardly science fiction. “Look around,” King says with a shrug. “In some places we are already there.”

In one scene I watch during rehearsals, the judges fantasize about what it would be like to fly in an airplane, a mode of transportation that is essentially forbidden. They throw tables and chairs together in the jury room to mimic an airplane cabin and rave about escaping the horrors on the ground – floods, food shortages, refugee crises – and soaring into the “blue skies” like their parents and grandparents once did. An ice-cold Coke and a bag of peanuts in flight are unimaginable luxuries.

In another, somehow even sadder scene, they speculate about what it might be like to hit snow. The idea of ​​jetting off on a ski vacation is confusing. “I saw a video, but…” says one of them.

King’s decision to use a group of teenagers (the youngest is 12, the oldest 18) gives the play an appealingly one-sided energy. Yes, these kids are expecting the consequences of the climate crisis, but they also want to flirt, kiss, fool around – just live their lives. While the Donmar has hired some seasoned professionals — Joe Locke and William Gao, both stars of the Netflix series Heartstopper, are performing — some of the cast were found through the theater’s “Local” program, which serves schools and community groups from nearby counties includes . Almost 1,400 young people were involved, with around 200 taking part in intensive workshops at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama.

This seemed important to us, explains director Natalie Abrahami: “The theme of the play seemed to call for it somehow. That sense of activism, commitment.”

What drew Locke, now 18, about the project? It turns out he first read the script on the plane on his way to an acting job. He makes a face. “I was like, ‘Oh my god, I’m both the generation that should be making the change, but I’m also here pumping carbon,'” he says.

Does he share the characters’ anger at who is to blame? “I don’t necessarily think it’s anger at a single generation,” he replies cautiously. “It’s more like feeling disenfranchised. That awakens the desire to change something in many young people.”

Francis Dourado, 15, who adjusts samples around his GCSEs, is less diplomatic. “In the future, these people in power [now], they won’t be around anymore,” he says quietly. “We will be the ones left with a world already dying. It might already be too late to save it. I hope not, but…”

King has form when it comes to bringing dystopias to the stage. Her breakthrough play was 2011’s Foxfinder, which captivated critics with its eerie depiction of a rural community where foxes live like witches of the 17th century. Her incisive 2015 adaptation of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World was followed by a collaboration with grime MC and rapper Skepta, Dystopia987 trying to show what the club scene of the future could look like.

Becci Gemmell and Kirsty Besterman in Foxfinder by Dawn King at Finborough, London in 2011.

Becci Gemmell and Kirsty Besterman in Foxfinder by Dawn King at Finborough, London in 2011. Photo: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

Part of it is coincidence, she laughs: you write a successful dystopia and the producers think that’s all you can do. “But I would say that we are living in a dystopia at the moment. We’ve just been in a 40C heatwave, wildfires aren’t just in Europe, they’re in Kent too. How much more dystopia do you want to get?”

Court dramas are nothing new, but when a German version of the play premiered in Dusseldorf last summer, some critics raised eyebrows when the script pitted the generations against each other and prompted teenagers to do some denunciation of people their parents’ age who are at odds with the others uncomfortably reminiscent of the Chinese Cultural Revolution or the US McCarthy witch hunts.

Related: How do you make an elaborate spectacle sustainable? The theater’s radically green agenda

Does the creative team worry that some viewers may feel offended? Abrahami replies that The Trials is meant to provoke debate and hopefully act as well. “The play is one act without a break; The second half is the conversation you have with everyone you watched the show with. How does it change your way of thinking? What would you like to change in your own life?”

King says she’s on trial here just like everyone else. “I don’t point fingers, definitely not.” She holds up her hands. “From that point on, people will always say to me, ‘Oh, did you fly? Didn’t you go by train?’ I line up here.”

Despite many attempts, theater has often found it difficult to communicate the extent of the climate crisis or to show ways to solve it. What makes this show different? “The play is activism; I wrote it to change things,” King replies, noting that the theater is working with environmental arts organization Julie’s Bicycle to measure its impact and is using the new Theater Green Book to help guide the sets, props and others Items reusable are recyclable. This will be a roadmap for future Donmar shows.

Despite the desolation she brings to the stage, there’s still hope in The Trials, she adds. “There are elements of utopia. These young people live in a world where the climate catastrophe is taken extremely seriously. That’s what we need to listen to.” Locke agrees: “The play shows what the future might be like, not what it’s going to be like. That is an important distinction.”

When I ask him if he thinks people will really change the way they live, Dorado looks serious and appears to be a lot older than he is. “I think they’re going to change because now more than ever we’re seeing everything happening around us so fast. A lot of people are starting to wake up and realize.” How about Locke? “You have to stay optimistic, otherwise you can’t change anything.

Abrahami nods. “I’m kind of a hopeaholic,” she says, smiling. “You have to be, don’t you?”

• The Trials takes place from August 12th to 27th at the Donmar Warehouse in London. A new contingent of tickets is released every day at 10:00 a.m.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.