You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Earthquakes in London

Almost a British environmental version of "Angels in America" as written by Caryl Churchill.

Freya - Anna Madeley Jasmine - Jessica Raine Sarah - Lia Williams Robert - Bill Paterson Steve - Geoffrey Streatfeild Colin - Tom Goodman-Hill Peter - Bryony Hannah Carter - Michael Gould Tom - Gary Carr Mrs. Andrews - Anne Lacey

Encompassing impending environmental disaster, issues of political responsibility vs. private complacency, and the failures of a generation, Mike Bartlett’s vast, time-traveling “Earthquakes in London” is not short on big ideas. An epic depicted in theatrical mosaics, it’s like a British environmental version of “Angels in America” as written by Caryl Churchill. But despite the often astonishing verve of Rupert Goold’s production, the play itself promises more than it delivers.

Sarah (Lia Williams), a present-day government minister at the department of the environment, is married to the unemployed Colin (Tom Goodman-Hill). Freya (Anna Madeley), the distracted and heavily pregnant wife of Steve (Geoffrey Streatfeild), is having her life taken over by a strange teenage boy, Peter (Bryony Hannah), while Jasmine (Jessica Raine) is a noisily disaffected 19 year old with little sense of responsibility. Only gradually do we realize the three women are sisters.

That’s only half of it. Not even counting the collections of unnamed students, swimmers, passersby and mothers with strollers, Bartlett creates suspense via a remarkable 33 characters — from smooth-talking airline executive Carter (Michael Gould) to Jasmine’s equally suspicious latest sexual conquest, Tom (Gary Carr). And who is that couple in flashback in 1968? What is the research on airline pollution that’s undertaken in 1973?

Bartlett initially withholds the interconnections. Instead, he draws audiences into a game of guessing what holds everyone — and everything — together, a technique that adds suspense to his presentation of a wealth of perspectives on contemporary attitudes to selfish individualism and selfless concern. It’s a tribute to his construction that the 95-minute first half pretty much flies by.

Once almost all the links have been made clear, however, the more explanatory second half runs out of steam.

Having been so bracingly unsentimental in the portrayal of a family wrecked by a father’s ruthless dedication to scientific ideology (embodied by a marvelously focused, relaxed Bill Paterson), it’s disappointing to watch the underwritten, visionary section set in 2525 tip over into surprising sentimentality.

Faced with a play stronger on apt metaphor and vivid juxtaposition of ideas than overall dramatic trajectory, helmer Goold goes for broke, not least in his marshaling of the production design.

Set designer Miriam Buether strips out the seating and turns the floor of the rectangular Cottesloe theater into an acting space dominated by a four-foot-high serpentine catwalk edged by audience members. Seated on swivel bar stools, audiences swing round to watch scenes flowing across the space with letter-box-shaped inner stages at either end of the auditorium. The rest of the audience looks down on the action from galleries on either side; the fronts of these galleries act as projection screens.

Goold’s handling of the video is enhanced by Scott Ambler’s choreography, which supplies surprising, witty dance numbers and a fluidity to the staging, a necessity in a show that survives by keeping so many theatrical plates spinning.

Given the blasts of song and dance, surging and plummeting switches of mood — theater for the attention-deficit generation? — it’s all the more impressive that many performances register strongly. Anne Lacey is deliciously dour as housekeeper Mrs. Andrews, and Maggie Service is hilarious pulling rank as a shop assistant with attitude.

Bartlett’s previous plays, especially the Olivier-winning “Cock,” revealed him as a fiercely concentrated, resonant miniaturist. His more expansive skewering of attitudes to the environment — “Bad things are happening. Let’s stick our heads in the sand” — is undeniably urgent and given heft by Goold’s audacious production. Rarely, one feels, has a dystopia been so entertaining.

Ultimately, however, it’s clear that the evening is less than the sum of its parts. Having commissioned Bartlett, Goold might have achieved a stronger result had he instigated a tougher edit and curbed his own directorial enthusiasm.

Earthquakes in London

National Theater, Cottesloe, London; 276 seats; £32 $50 top

Production: A National Theater and Headlong Theater presentation of a play in two acts by Mike Bartlett. Directed by Rupert Goold.

Creative: Sets, Miriam Buether; costumes, Katrina Lindsay; lighting, Howard Harrison; music, Alex Baranowski; sound, Gregory Clarke; projections, Jon Driscoll; choreography, Scott Ambler; production stage manager, Kerry McDevitt. Opened, reviewed Aug. 4, 2010. Running time: 3 HOURS, 10 MIN.

Cast: Freya - Anna Madeley Jasmine - Jessica Raine Sarah - Lia Williams Robert - Bill Paterson Steve - Geoffrey Streatfeild Colin - Tom Goodman-Hill Peter - Bryony Hannah Carter - Michael Gould Tom - Gary Carr Mrs. Andrews - Anne LaceyWith: Lucy May Barker, Brian Ferguson, Polly Frame, Tom Godwin, Clive Hayward, Syrus Lowe, Maggie Service.

More Legit

  • CAROL CHANNING HERSCHFELD. Actress Carol Channing

    Remembering Carol Channing: A Master of Channeling the Power of Personality

    There was only one Carol Channing, and her outsize personality was a source of delight to many fans — and imitators. Gerard Alessandrini’s stage spoof “Forbidden Broadway” had many incarnations over the years, including the 1994 edition when an audience member was selected every evening to come onstage and impersonate Carol Channing with the cast. [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Viola Davis, Lin-Manuel Miranda Among Celebrities Remembering Carol Channing

    Viola Davis, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Bernadette Peters are among the slew of celebrities taking to Twitter to pay tribute to late singer, comedienne and actress Carol Channing. Known for her starring roles in Broadway’s “Hello Dolly!” and “Gentleman Prefer Blondes,” the legend of the stage and screen died Tuesday at her home in Rancho Mirage, [...]

  • What the Constitution Means to Me

    Listen: How Things Got Scary in 'What the Constitution Means to Me'

    For a decade, writer-performer Heidi Schreck had wanted to write a play inspired by her experiences as a teen debater. But over the years the show started to develop into something both urgently political and deeply personal — and things got scary. In the Broadway-bound “What the Constitution Means to Me,” Schreck reimagines her speech-and-debate [...]

  • Carol Channing Dead

    Carol Channing, Star of Broadway's 'Hello, Dolly!' and 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,' Dies at 97

    Larger-than-life musical stage personality Carol Channing, who immortalized the characters of Lorelei Lee in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and Dolly Gallagher Levi in “Hello, Dolly!,” has died. She was 97. Channing died Tuesday of natural causes at her home in Rancho Mirage, Calif. Her publicist B. Harlan Boll confirmed the news. He wrote, “It is with [...]

  • 'What the Constitution Means to Me'

    'What the Constitution Means to Me' Transfers to Broadway

    “What the Constitution Means to Me,” a buzzy Off-Broadway production that counts Hillary Clinton and Gloria Steinem among its fans, is making the move uptown. The play will come to Broadway this spring for a 12-week limited run at the Helen Hayes Theater. “What the Constitution Means to Me” is one part civics lesson, one [...]

  • Choir Boy review

    Broadway Review: 'Choir Boy'

    Honestly, I was afraid that “Choir Boy” — the sweetly exuberant account of a gifted prep school boy’s coming of age, written by “Moonlight” Oscar winner Tarell Alvin McCraney — would be swallowed up in a Broadway house, after winning us over in an Off Broadway staging in 2013.  But aside from the odd set [...]

  • Jason Robert Brown

    Listen: How Ariana Grande Got Jason Robert Brown to Madison Square Garden

    Broadway composer Jason Robert Brown never expected to find himself performing onstage at Madison Square Garden. But he did — thanks to his pal Ariana Grande. Brown met Grande before she was a superstar, when she was in the 2008 Broadway cast of his teen musical “13.” The two have kept in touch ever since [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content