Earthquakes in London by Sedos

Earthquakes in london
Earthquakes in London by Sedos

It is unfortunate that for too many people, the epithet “amateur” in relation to theatre remains redolent of inexpert performance in draughty church halls by well-meaning performers of limited talent. The reality is that for many groups nowadays, there is an almost invisible line between so called professional performance (ironically not necessarily of the highest quality) and other productions which are only amateur in the sense that participants have not been paid. SEDOS specifically states in its programme notes that they “strive for professional standards in both performance and production values” and it is fair to say that they have a well-established reputation in achieving that ambition which has once again been reinforced by this production of Earthquakes in London.

Author Mike Bartlett described Earthquakes in London as “epic”. With multiple concurrent storylines, flash backs and flash forwards together with a variety of dramatic styles there is some justification in the claim. The core of the play revolves around three sisters. The eldest Sarah (Carrie Pennifer) is a coalition government LibDem cabinet minister planning to halt all airport expansion, prioritising environment over the economy. Middle sister Freya (Kimberly Barker) is pregnant and seriously concerned about the world she is bringing her child into. Jasmine (Izzi Richardson) is the youngest, a rebellious teenager (what other kind is there?). Their father Robert (Paul Francis) widowed and estranged from his children, a prominent scientist who predicts environmental apocalypse who compromised himself by a previous acceptance of cash from the airline industry to conceal the dangers of global warming.

earthquakes in londonAdmirers of Mike Bartlett’s work will enjoy this imaginative re-working of his 2010 play. It would also appear that there has been some judicious pruning to produce a running time some 30 minutes shorter than the original, which (even allowing for rave reviews) was criticised at the time as requiring cuts. This shortened version still packed a punch – and indeed further cuts could have been made since not all scenes illuminated the action or moved the drama on. Staged by director Chris Davis in a traverse working space, the pace of the piece is relentless. Set is reduced to wooden chairs and later a hospital bed, moved as required by the cast.

Characters were well drawn. In particular, Paul Francis was outstanding as the dyspeptic father whose apocalyptic view of global warming lies at the heart of the piece. He sparred particularly well with Paul Francis as Freya’s husband who was desperately trying to make sense of his wife’s increasingly fragile state. As with all good writing, all of the main characters were flawed in some way. Izzi Richardson captured the spirit of resentment and anger of a rebellious teenager while Helena Bumpus presented a remarkable interpretation of early teen with alleged behavioural difficulties (although both could have done with dialling down speed of delivery since not all dialogue was completely audible, especially with backs to audience) and Bumpus also effected a remarkable transformation into the role of Emily. Marcus Ezekiel was engaging as the unemployed husband whose confidence has not been helped by his wife’s meteoric career rise, while Carrie Pennifer convinced as the driven professional losing track of what is required to maintain a marital relationship. As the ultimately tragic figure of Freya, Kimberly Barker drew the audience in with her increasing sense of desperation and uncertain mental state. Barker also showed considerable confidence in performing a stunt requiring timing and physical coordination on the part of the Ensemble. The Risk Assessment would no doubt have made interesting reading!

There was a marked contrast in writing and direction style between main characters and Ensemble (with the notable exception of Olivier Namet as Young Robert, who convinced as the young scientist seduced by the lure of guaranteed income to compromise his ideals). With seven actors to take on twenty one other characters, roles were perhaps of necessity reduced to stereotypes. However this was not always necessary and there were occasions when the temptation to achieve what was ultimately a cheap laugh appeared to overcome what should have been a more serious dramatic narrative. However there was no doubting the energy and commitment of Ensemble members, called upon as they were in dance and extra duties.

Earthquakes in LondonThere was no chance of the audience losing concentration, which was essential given rapid time shifts (helpfully indicated by monitors) and location. The pace of Earthquakes in London was considerable not only for cast in multiple entries and exits (including scenes blending into one another) but also for the technical support team providing numerous sound and light cues which, with a couple of exceptions, were smartly executed.

The play itself is not perfect. Characters and plotlines are satisfyingly established over the course of the action but the climax seems somewhat at odds with the tone of everything that has gone before. Nonetheless, there are some serious questions asked about our responses to the issue of global warming at both a personal and institutional level. Events such as the election of climate change sceptic to the most powerful position on the planet and the recent decision in relation to Heathrow Airport expansion make this play as relevant today as it was eight years ago.

Review by Robin Kelly

Earthquakes in London is playing at the Bridewell Theatre until 14th July. To find out more about Sedos visit their website.

If you like this review you might also like Musical Theatre Musings review of Pippin, Little Women and Pornography, all by Sedos.

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