The Contingency Plan @ Bush Theatre, London

cast list
Robin Soanes, Stephanie Street, Geoffrey Streatfeild, David Bark-Jones, Susan Brown

On the Beach directed by
Michael Longhurst

Resilience directed by
Tamara Harvey
The plays in Steve Waters’ gripping, pertinent yet not utterly doom-laden double bill about climate change can be viewed separately they both work as stand alone pieces but are far more satisfying when taken together.

In the first play, On The Beach, Will Paxton brings his new girlfriend home to meet his parents for the first time.

This not undaunting prospect is complicated by the fact that Will’s dad, once like himself a prominent glaciologist, has been, along with his wife, living a life of self-imposed reclusion in a secluded coastal cottage in north Norfolk, while Will’s girlfriend, Sarika, is a senior civil servant with the department responsible for climate change (they met while she was on a fact-finding trip to Antarctica).
Clashes are inevitable, especially after Will’s father reveals that he had in fact approached the government with his findings about the worrying melt rates of the ice sheets and the potentially catastrophic consequences decades ago only to be dismissed as a crank. Since then he has shut himself off from the world, content to study sea birds.

The second play, Resilience, is set in Whitehall where the tables are turned and it is Sarika introducing Will to the world she inhabits. While the government ministers approach the situation with something akin to excitement, seeing the coming crisis as a chance to make their mark, Will preaches caution. He unsuccessfully tries to convince them that the only safe solution is to retreat inland, to acknowledge that things have gone too far and to take the necessary steps to safeguard the population from danger, but they dismiss his approach as being too negative and seem more concerned with the potential damage to their reputations if they are seen to be overreacting.

Both plays touch on disaster scenarios but are all the more potent for not being able to show the swelling waves, the churning waters. In Michael Longhurt’s On The Beach the sign that nature is in torment comes in the form of an overhead storm of fleeing, frightened seabirds. In Resilence, director Tamara Harvey understands the power of darkness, plunging the stage into blackness at a pivotal moment, allowing the audience’s imaginations to build pictures of the chaos occurring outside.

Set a few years in the future, with Cameron’s Conservatives in power, these plays are urgent, but despite the subject matter they are never aggressively bleak; they manage to convey their message without being off-puttingly preachy. There is much humour in the writing and in the performances. Geoffrey Streatfeild is excellent as the passionate, committed Will, slightly out of his depth in the Whitehall environment. Robin Soanes is both amusing and poignant as Will’s father. Susan Brown is also memorable as both Will’s mother, a woman who clearly adores her husband while at the same time being slightly alarmed and frightened by him, as well as the steely minister Tessa.

Resilience is concerned more with the meat of the debate (and is therefore the one to see if you can only see one) but the first play allows for a greater shading of character, providing a glimpse of the complicated relationship between Will and his parents, the knowledge of which considerably increases the emotional impact of the second play. The only dud note in the double bill is the relationship between Will and Sarika, which while nicely played by Streatfeild and Stephanie Street, feels too much like a dramatic convenience designed to bring Will into the political sphere.

These plays deal with a complex subject with admirable level-headedness and intelligence; the stuff of nightmares is presented to the audience with humour and warmth with the result that the events presented are far more powerful and plausible than a simple shake and a scare. Vital viewing.

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