Tuesday 12 April 2011

Chaps cure climate change at the National Theatre

The effects of climate change are being felt most damagingly and can be counteracted least effectively in the poorest, rural parts of the world. It is also in these regions that women are already most likely to experience violence, chronic poverty, death in childbirth, starvation, little opportunity for academic and sexual health education, poor access to nutritious food and clean water, barriers to medical treatment (barriers as basic as having to walk miles to the nearest hospital) and labour, financial and sexual exploitation. While everyone will bear the brunt of climate change, the people who suffer most from what wasteful industrialised countries have done to the environment are non-white women in poor countries. There, resourcefulness and frugality are not lifestyle quirks but mandatory for survival.

Luckily this spring the National Theatre is on the case. In a series of events pegged to their specially commissioned eco drama, Greenland, they have invited men to chat it out. If women want to be involved they can pay to attend and listen in silence; the money from their ticket purchases will be used to pay for more men to talk later, or for male playwrights to have their work staged. At the moment there are 10 productions on at the National: London Road, Frankenstein, War Horse, Hamlet, The Holy Rosenbergs, Rocket to the Moon, The Cherry Orchard, One Man Two Guvnors, Emperor and Galilean and A Woman Killed With Kindness. Of these ten, just one work - London Road - was written by a woman, Alecky Blythe. But theatre audiences, as everyone who goes knows, are at least half women.

The Greenland play had two men and two women writers (Matt Charman, Ben Power, Moira Welcome to Thebes Buffini and Penelope Eigengrau Skinner) but taken as a whole production, including the director and dramaturg and others, the women were outnumbered. 

Between 11th February and 8th May 2011 there are in-depth talks and an exhibition on the theme of climate change. There are seven named solo talks, all of which are given by men: Charlie Kronick, Bjorn Lomborg, John Shepherd, George Divoky, Michael Jacobs, Nigel Lawson and Marcus Brigstocke. Three of these men – Shepherd, Jacobs and Brigstocke – have one or the other of the two male Greenland writers as interlocutors. The women playwrights have been excluded. None of the solo headline talks are given by women. There are two talks with two speakers each: Tim Flannery with David Shukman, then David King with the one woman speaker, Gabrielle Walker. So far on the talks stage you can see twelve different men and one woman. There is also, on Thursday 14th April, a debate amongst Green Futures and the Institute of Ideas on the themes in Greenland, but I can’t find specific names of participants online, either at these organisations’ sites or the National’s own site.

The accompanying exhibition, Postcards From the Future, is in the Olivier theatre’s cloakroom foyer. It features large-scale images of London as it might look if we do nothing about climate change. The artists are Robert Graves and Didier Madoc-Jones. Final tally of named contributors in the countdown to global eco Armageddon: fourteen men, one woman.

Forget about imagining the future if we don’t act on climate issues. Thanks to the National, we already know what public life will look like if we don’t act on cultural femicide.