Robert Trussell

‘The Great Immensity’ does a ‘Greenland’

pic: from left: Rebecca Hart, Dan Domingues, Meghan McGeary and Todd Cerveris in 'The Great Immensity'

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In the last couple of years a number of plays about climate change have been staged in London from Steve Waters’ The Contingency Plan to the multi-authored Greenland at the National Theatre and Richard Bean’s The HereticThe Contingency Plan was funny, dramatic and accurate; Greenland was not very dramatic, not very funny and accurate; and The Hereticwas very funny, quite dramatic and fairly inaccurate.

Meanwhile, this blog has been waiting since 2010 for the results of the substantial grant of $750,000 (£470,000) from the US National Science Foundation for a new play about climate change by The Civilians theatre company. The reviews for The Great Immensity are now in. It sounds as if it has made some of the same mistakes as Greenland.

So what happens in The Great Immensity? The set-up is that a character called Phyllis arrives at Barro Colorado Island, a rainforest and research reserve in the middle of the Panama Canal, in search of her twin sister Polly, a filmmaker who has suddenly disappeared. The researchers on the island help Phyllis reconstruct her sister’s last days through flashbacks, video interviews from Polly’s hard drive, and vaudeville musical sketches. Phyllis learns that Polly was engaged in a project to do with the upcoming Auckland Climate Summit. The action then moves to Churchill, Manitoba, where Earth Ambassadors and others disclose what happened to Polly.

Robert Trussell in the Kansas City Star calls it a “risk-taking show”and an “unwieldy cargo container of theatrical virtues and deficiencies”.

“Integrated into the narrative is alarming information about the plight of the planet. I’m not questioning the scientific information that forms this play’s foundation. My concern is how the show works as theatrical entertainment.”

Victor Wishna, in the KCMetropolis, an online journal of the performing arts, takes the viewthat what theatre does best is provoke, rather than educate or entertain. Although well-performed, he finds it a single-issue, educational show, with no subplots or diversions from the message of the irreversible damage that humans have done to the planet.

“Theatre-goers may very well leave The Great Immensity more frustrated and agitated than inspired. Unlike a lecture or even a documentary film, theatre isn’t expected to offer answers but to raise—to provoke—questions, to challenge assumptions, to take us from ‘There’s nothing to be done’ to ‘Isn’t there something we can do?’”

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ashdenizen is edited by Robert Butler, and is the blog associated with the Ashden Directory, a website focusing on environment and performance.
The Ashden Directory is edited by Robert Butler and Wallace Heim, with associate editor Kellie Gutman. The Directory includes features, interviews, news, a timeline and a database of ecologically – themed productions since 1893 in the United Kingdom. Our own projects include ‘New Metaphors for Sustainability’, ‘Flowers Onstage’ and ‘Six ways to look at climate change and theatre’.

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