How would you feel if you were told your unborn baby will burn on a dried-up planet? That children have no place in the future and anybody who thinks otherwise should be arrested for cruelty?
Coast to Coast Theatre Company’s commitment to creating work that provokes conversations continues with Play Before Birth.
Twenty-one-year-old Klara (Rachel Nicholson) is eight months pregnant with her first child. The only people who turn up to her baby shower are her supportive sister Sophie (Alex Gallacher), friend Frances (Caitlin Jacobsen) and the not invited Moira (Ellie Martland) whose extreme opinions about parenthood cast a shadow over the night.
Writer and director Rohan Gotobed said: “This play is going to be intense, risk-taking and provocative. It’s about young people living in a climate change world, something scary but incredibly important.
As governments around the world declare climate emergencies in the wake of Extinction Rebellion, it’s time to become aware of the facts and emotions to climate change.
Writing it I was interested in seeing how people would react. If I went to see a play and I heard that line, would that make me think in a different way to how I thought when I walked in the room.”
He recalled renowned theatre director Robert Icke’s advice when he spoke at UEA a couple of years ago.
“He said always look for the more interesting argument. We all should be on the same side of climate change; we don’t all want to die so what’s the most interesting and provocative way we can dig into it?
Perhaps that’s by taking an extreme point of view and asking what in this makes sense? I don’t necessarily agree with everything in the play, but if you look at it from a devil’s advocate point of view…
I can’t wait for audiences to become part of Klara’s decision and join our conversation about the modern world. I’d love people to go ‘what would I have done if I was in her shoes’ or ‘I vehemently disagree with what Moira was saying’ or ‘actually, she has a point’. With the other characters as well, ‘would I have reacted in that way?’ I’m very curious how men will feel about the unseen Lewis, Klara’s partner and Moira’s brother; I think that’ll be an interesting dilemma for them.”
The environment has become a hot topic as the Brexit battle rages on.
“You want every play to be relevant, but how relevant it’s actually going to be… the climate change debate has exploded in recent months with the Extinction Rebellion and [Swedish schoolgirl turned climate change campaigner] Greta Thunberg.
It’s been politicised. This idea that as the right takes up nationalism as its fight, the left has taken up climate change and is trying to use that to break down the system. Those ideas are always exciting to explore in theatre, which I think is the most democratic art-form.”
Rohan developed the play with Molly Farley, joint artistic director at Coast To Coast. The original idea centred on the morality of having a child in a world where Donald Trump is president and nationalism is on the rise.
“There’s a fantastic poem by Louis Macneice called Prayer Before Birth, told from the point of view of an unborn child during the Second World War. It’s really evocative and we read that and thought ‘okay, there’s these ideas to play with’. One of my favourite quotes is we don’t inherit the Earth from our parents, we borrow it from our children… that was always in the forefront of my mind when I wrote this.”
Climate change was originally more a background issue, with the impact of having children on the environment having been touched on many times before in work like Duncan MacMillan’s Lungs.
“We found groups like Conceivable Future doing testimonials about people who agree not to have children to save the planet. We felt this was an interesting issue. We looked at ourselves and where we put ourselves in this argument. If we were getting these thoughts, surely other people were,” said Rohan.
"We developed the original idea through the scratch night at The Garage. That was useful. Loads of people were coming up to us afterwards and getting into debates. From that point on, we knew climate change, the moral question, womanhood versus femininity, is womanhood and motherhood synonymous and how people feel about that were the questions we wanted to try to answer.
I also realised – and I wasn’t intending this when I wrote it – but the play’s quite reflective of my own fears about graduation, thinking about the future and in general the world we’re going into, that uncertainty.”
Play Before Birth isn’t about how we solve climate change. It’s about how we’re going to live in a world that’s already been forever altered.
Rachel said the play embraces the fact there’s no middle ground anymore where climate change’s involved.
“A lot of the campaigns are based on the fact that’s time’s up for being delicate. We’re not going on stage saying: ‘climate change could be really bad, but it could be okay’. We’ve moved so far past that point now.
With Moira’s monologues you’re presented with lots of facts, one way of looking at things. Then another character will present another way. It’s scary, thinking about where the world will be in 2030. We’ve got to adapt, one way or another. All the arguments presented, they’re all true, conceivable futures which I think will cause an interesting reaction from the audience. I hope this furthers the discussion that’s already taking place and the determination to fix things.”
Ellie wants people to be inspired to start making changes.
“Yes, we go through this roller-coaster of a journey but it’s not all doom and gloom. I want people to have a sense of hope and optimism at the end and take away that every person can do something with that hope to help at least decrease the rate our planet’s dying.”
Rohan hopes audiences will have an affirming experience in the theatre and then struggle to sleep when they get home.
“Partly because we’ve made them aware of the potential tragedy of the situation, but also because they’ve been inspired to go away and find out more.”
Play Before Birth was incubated at The Garage. It runs here 6-7 June before heading to this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Call 01603 598646 or visit www.thegarage.org.uk/playbeforebirth to book.