What on earth is happening to our planet? That was the ambitious question posed by the National Theater to four playwrights, a dramaturg, a director and his design team. If the effort-filled answer “Greenland” proves anything it’s that there is a major difference between theatrical, which it sometimes is, and dramatic which, alas, it is not.
With four writers submitting material, the one thing the show is not short on is plot-strands.
Lyndsey Marshal is a driven backstage Labour politician involved with Peter McDonald’s climate scientist; Isabella Laughland is a determined young eco-warrior who worries her parents; Amanda Lawrence is the fretful half of a lesbian couple struggling with the climate-change strictures of her partner; Michael Goold spends months in the arctic circle mapping global warming via the movements of guillemots.
Although all of these – and more – illuminate concerns about the future of the planet, none of them is linked in terms of character or situation.
If that weren’t diffuse enough, the styles used to link them are similarly varied. Naturalistic scenes at a rave (unconvincingly staged) in restaurants and hotel bedrooms are increasingly at odds with more vivid, metaphorical moments like the eco-warrior blithely suspended above the stage in that uber-symbol of consumerism, the supermarket trolley.
Designer Bunny Christie supplies imaginative snowstorms of falling paper, a curtain of pouring rain and other diverting visual coups. But stripping out the Lyttelton stage to its full width is a highly risky enterprise since the vast open space exposes the thinness of the material. Dramaturg Ben Power and director Bijan Shebani fail to tie the strands together and minus the tension this would have supplied, nothing coalesces into developed or sustained drama.
The one exception is the politician-meets-scientist plot. Well-played though it is, it feels as if it has strayed in from another play altogether. Its trajectory is also problematic, resolving as it does with them deciding to have a child – an idea inveighed against elsewhere. Accorded too little stage time to build this into an effective argument, their decision appears as the definition of sentimental, the quality the rest of the play so fervently argues against.
Packed with good intention and undeniable moments of visual inspiration, the show ultimately demonstrates the unimportance of being earnest.