On bus. Slow bus. Checking watch. Getting rather too close to start of play for my liking. Bus still slow. And doing random loop through back streets I swear it has never taken before. Crap. Finally jump off bus, pelt down street, pass Kingsland Road shouty drunk, and reach theatre. Attempt to appear marginally less flustered than I actually am as I request my ticket. Fail. Enter theatre. Just in time.
Phew, I never usually cut things that close. I am much better organised than that. Oh, yes. Anyway, the play, the point of all that dashing: Tim Stimpson’s One, Nineteen, currently being perfomed in the Arcola’s baby back alley studio on a stage bare bar the odd sandbag and folding chair.
The title refers to the date of a catastrophic storm that devastates an area of England. But though it touches on the implications of climate change, this is not a post-apocalyptic, the whole-world’s-going-to-hell type play, but a more familiar media satire, taking the events in New Orleans as a cue to explore how the media responds to a disaster of this scale.
So Stimpson presents us with a series of characters, often in conversation with invisible interviewers. First up we get a few blanket-clad survivors, then he settles on individual stories: an environmental activist, a politician who becomes something of a scapegoat, a self-satisfied rock star who is quick to spearhead a huge concert at Wembley to raise aid, and at the heart of all this, a young mother who was separated from her three children as the waters rose, and whose story has inadvertently become the human interest hook on to which all the journalists cling. These children’s names, "Sam, Jack and little Chloe" – it's always ‘little’ Chloe – become something of a mantra throughout the play in a depressingly plausible manner. The satirical elements are at time rather heavy-handed, but I enjoyed the way the stories intersected, the pacing was taut and it managed to touch on the subjects of climate change and environmental upheaval without being preachy or overly doomy.
Plus, and here's praise, it was engaging enough for me to - just - about be able to blot out the noise from above. I‘ve not seen Jenufa which is playing in the Arcola’s main space, but from the sounds of things, it has a cast of possibly around three hundred.
Oh, and there's another "enjoyably off-the-wall" Observer post over here.
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