As dystopian premises go, Dawn King’s new play at the Donmar Warehouse offers a scorcher that sounds Netflix-ready. With the planet ravaged by climate change, a brutal judicial strategy has been adopted. Those in the age-bracket that presided over the descent into hell are being tried, one by one, at speed, by the younger generation.
The timing is grimly impeccable. With Europe sweltering and heat records tumbling, real-world anxiety levels are high, and an atmosphere of political recrimination is on the rise. King’s vision is further bolstered by the fact that the actors playing the jurors in Natalie Abrahami’s production range in age from 12 to 18. Their elders, dubbed “dinosaurs”, must make their case, justifying (or begging understanding for) their past lifestyles.
We hear from three adults in turn. First is a former advertising man (a twitchy, defiant Nigel Lindsay) who pleads that he was feeding his family and did his best – “If we were going skiing, we took the ski train.” A satirical strain persists in the second case (Lucy Cohu), a “climate-conscious”, Green-voting writer who tried to swim against the tide. She invites scepticism from her juniors: “It doesn’t matter if you pollute for art. It’s still pollution!” The third defendant worked – oh, the shame – in the oil industry (Sharon Small).
Each dino is spot-lit, their shifty expressions video-projected, with deliberation ensuing: the young get their moment of reckoning, then. Yet while some are quick to demand the death penalty, the hallmark of this 90-minute piece is its contemplative tone. King wants to show these judges as thoughtful, conflicted and, even in extremis, compassionate. She’s relatively unconcerned with the specifics of who wields power, and what daily life is like, beyond glancingly denoting that it’s asphyxiating and challenging.
That sense of kids tomorrow being akin to those of today makes practical sense in terms of the cast, and it brings to the fore how current behaviours are both culpable and modifiable. Still, inclining the drama towards a classroom discussion robs the target younger audience, as well as those of us who are older (and implicitly in the dock), of much adrenal urgency. Great idea, I would say, but another draft would be welcome.
Even so, while the acting from the newcomers is forgivably variable, all bring authenticating freshness to the stage, and there are some faces to watch. Charlie Reid as Tomaz, archetypally sulky then arrestingly animated by flights of fancy about the vanished world, impresses; so does Francis Dourado as the cautious, quizzical Mohammad and Honor Kneafsey as responsible jury-leader Ren. Stars of the future? The next step is just to ensure there’s a future at all.
Until August 27. Tickets: 020 3282 3808; donmarwarehouse.com