When the weather is as cold as it has been these past few days, it’s a great surprise and pleasure when you have a chance to discover a new immersive theatre show which not only involves each audience member, but also opens a debate about what we are doing to our planet.
LASTheatre’s latest immersive production, New Atlantis, explores humanity’s relationship with water in the year 2050. The location is perfectly chosen: The Crystal is a gorgeous futuristic building near Canary Wharf which, positioned between the London cable cars and the O2, makes you think it could fly away into space.
As I entered the space, the music and fog set the urgent scene straightaway. I was told that I was an “Agent”. My task for the evening was to vote for a new government for our state New Atlantis in order to find the best solution to deal with the water crisis of 2050. The Agents could select between three ministries to save our planet in the face of higher population numbers and fewer resources: the ministries of Defence, Industry or Reform. We were then encouraged to explore The Crystal and talk to representatives of the three ministries in order to make up our minds, before the big debate. The task was not easy!
What is special about this show is that alongside actors, the cast includes high-profile UCL (University College London) scientists and engineers, including BBC’s Helen Czerski, who add a sense of pressing realism to the futuristic narrative.
I started with the ministry of Defence, who explained to me the influence that the atmosphere has over the oceans, and how important it is that we stop polluting our air in order to save our water. What they suggested was to control the resources in order to ensure its distribution to everyone.
The ministry of Industry had the most innovative ideas, and were always thinking about the practical side of things. They had a plan to develop new energy through algae, and the scientists who interacted with the “agents” were very convincing indeed…
But of course, in an ideal world, we knew that Reform was the most ethical choice. Unfortunately, apart from very good democratic sentiments and their motivation to find a way to preserve our glaciers, they didn’t have a proper plan. I did have my best conversation of the evening with a Reform scientist, talking about what eating meat is doing to our planet, how we need to focus on buying food locally and the importance of dialogue between the government and the population. But how can these changes really happen? How can we not realise how urgent this is? The answer seems to be: I’m too busy! How frightening.
The idea of placing the show in 2050 was truly great, as it made me think about generations past and future and about who I will be in 2050. The politicians who we were supposed to vote for were more or less the age I will be when that year comes. They talked about the end of the 20th century with wisdom, and it seemed so far away already. I think everyone was fearfully asking themselves: what activities I am doing now are going to influence my life in 35 years’ time? If I am part of 2015’s “youth” and I think my elders are not brave enough, won’t 2050’s youth think the same of me?
It was also quite unique to involve scientists and engineers into the conversation. The mix between actors and scientists worked very well – and added to the excitement and fear. I do believe that this is the reason there were people of all ages and backgrounds (scientific and non-scientific – like me!) at the show, which I think is a sign of success.
Perhaps one thing that was lacking during the show was… time! After a 7:30pm start, the debate already started at 9:00pm which meant some Agents missed certain important conversations with scientists. I had a nice encounter with a sort of mad scientist who collected water in little bottles in his laboratory. I do think the man was an actor, and thought it would have been nice to encounter more people like him – again, there wasn’t enough time.
Also, as the members of the three governmental departments were wearing distinctive colours, the Agents could have also been encouraged (perhaps before the show) to choose between one of the three colours, or to carry specially prepared banners, to feel even more immersed in the political feel of the night. In the spirit of a treasure hunt or quiz, some Agents could have had tasks to do or clues to find.
While I’d rather not reveal the outcome of the debate, or the grand finale, it lacked a clear message for me. Why not send everyone home with a specific task for the week to make a difference?
Despite this, this was a very enjoyable and thought-provoking night, and conversations carried on long after the evening.
Climate change and policy’s influence on it is such a delicate subject that needs to be dealt with. New Atlantis is an unusual night and a nice way to make us think.
Review by Sophie Tergeist
New Atlantis plays at the Crystal until the 25th January 2015