(The following blog by Robert Butler appeared in the Guardian May 22 2009)

Green shoots of climate-change theatre

Plays about the environment might sound preachy and dull, but three new eco-conscious shows in London are engaging dramas

When you work as a full-time theatre critic, you get to see more than your fair share of drama on an impossibly wide variety of subjects. And yet, during my five-year stint as the critic on the Independent on Sunday (and excepting occasional moments in Chekhov and Ibsen), I never once saw a play with a green theme.

During that period (the late 1990s), a number of reports were published by NGOs and intergovernmental bodies on deforestation, loss of biodiversity and the high probability that our climate would be altered by human activity. The contents of these reports challenged how we led our lives: if we carried on in this way, things were going to end badly. The odd thing was, despite theatre's ability to reflect and ponder on every other scenario imaginable, you didn't hear a squeak about the environment on stage.

Perhaps theatre wasn't cut out to do green issues. Plays are about human relationships. Plays are about families. "What else is there?", Sam Shepard once asked. Maybe the sort of cutting-edge subjects that compelled the attention of physicists, biologists and philosophers of the stature of James Lovelock, EO Wilson and Peter Singer simply couldn't be reimagined in theatre. Even to raise the subject prompted embarrassed looks. A play about the environment? Sounds preachy and dull.


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