Review: 2071, Royal Court Theatre

A play about climate change at the Royal Court Theatre in London fails to make climate data exciting


By Sophie Yeo

It was heartening to see some interest in climate change in Sloane Square – one of London’s richest neighbourhoods, better known for Russian oligarchs than eco-warriors.

But 2071, a theatrical attempt at climate communication staged at the Royal Court, is unlikely to win over the hearts and minds of London’s thespian types any time soon.

The performance closely resembled the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change press conference I watched from the comfort of home last Sunday – though admittedly with better graphics and a space age soundtrack.

Professor Chris Rapley, a notable climate scientist, sits on stage to deliver a 70-minute lecture on global warming and why it’s happening.

It’s heavy on data and he doesn’t scrimp on jargon.

And the effect is tiring. As the play progresses, the head of the girl in front of me cautiously droops onto the shoulder of her companion. I wonder if this is a fledgling romance or the result of one too many references to the cryosphere.

The facts should speak for themselves when it comes to climate change. This play displays a naïve assumption that this is the case.

We hear how concentrations of CO2 are the highest in recorded history, and rising; how Arctic sea ice is disappearing at a rate of 4% per decade; how temperatures could rise by 4.8C by 2100 without rapid action to cut emissions.

But most scientists are painfully aware by now that facts are not – and never will be – enough, no matter how clearly they spell out the disaster knocking ever more urgently at our doors.

This doesn’t mean that Hollywood is the only remaining option – though there certainly seems to have been a shift in that direction, including the recent documentary series, Years of Living Dangerously.

What it means is reminding audiences that climate change is not just an obscure unreality to be discussed by an eminent scientists in a maroon jumper reading from autocue in Chelsea.

Humans react to names and faces. At the People’s Climate March in September, they felt stirred by the sight of hundreds of thousands taking to the streets. After Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, they were moved by negotiator Yeb Sano who wept in front of the UN as he waited for news of his friends and family.

This is the drama, the real story, behind climate change. You won’t find it in the IPCC – and you won’t find it at the Royal Court in Sloane Square.

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