Oodles of fun – but unfair on climate sceptics: Kill Climate Deniers reviewed

22 June 2019

9:00 AM

22 June 2019

9:00 AM

Kill Climate Deniers is a provocative satire by Australian theatre-activist David Finnigan. The title sounds misanthropic and faintly deranged but the show is a comedy delivered with oodles of verve and fun. Finnigan is a skilful writer of dialogue, a gifted farceur and, at times, an astute analyst of power and its corrupting tendencies. Like most Aussies, he’s incapable of pomposity and his show takes a pop at every player in this game: the politicians, the shock jocks, the sainted Greens and the media.

A TV journalist has the surname ‘Ile’ — an anagram of ‘lie’. Finnigan reminds us that the bulk of eco-warriors are white middle-class malcontents whose priority is not to save planet Earth but to get themselves noticed. (It would be fascinating to learn how many of Extinction Rebellion’s bongo-bangers are the second children in a family of three.)

The play opens with a goofy minister, Gwen, making a blunder during a TV interview that leads to a running tussle with her irascible publicist Georgina. They get caught up in a siege at Parliament House, in Canberra, after a gang of eco-rebels disguised as security guards storm the building. The tale follows the Die Hard plot and we watch as Gwen and Georgina snatch weapons from wounded rebels and try to defeat the revolution. The violence is bang-bang-you’re-dead comic-book stuff. There’s no blood. And the gunfire rat-a-tat-tats from a soundtrack. To add to the unthreatening sense of silliness, the terrorists use codenames borrowed from famous pop acts: ‘Aretha’, ‘Ike and Tina’, ‘Fleetwood Mac’.

But there are hints of something darker here. The characters support a plan to deflect sunlight by creating a ‘milky white ceiling’ above the Earth using chemicals sprayed from ‘a fleet of customised high-flying aircraft’. Five million tonnes of the stuff will be squirted into the air each year. And the ‘stuff’ in question is sulphuric acid. When the wisdom of this policy is questioned by online bloggers, the language becomes chilling. ‘They do not count. I hope they get sick and die.’

Any sceptic or ‘denier’ who challenges Green dogma gets the same treatment. An actor who represents the author keeps popping up with sinister asides. ‘I hoped you’d die,’ he says of sceptics, ‘not because I hate you but just so the rest of us can get on with the work you’re delaying.’ Like most eco-activists he assumes, falsely, that sceptics are heartless monsters receiving bribes from Big Oil to burn up the planet’s resources as soon as possible.

Well, I’m not like that. I never fly, drive or buy meat, and I’ve got 11 solar panels on my roof, but I know faulty science when I see it. Here are some of the questions we sceptics want answered. Why did the last Ice Age end without manmade pollution? Why is CO2 deemed ‘poisonous’ when it sustains all plant life? And why, after decades of ‘warming’, have so few central-heating engineers retrained as air-conditioning engineers? That said, I admit to getting regular bungs from Big Oil. The firm that buys my solar energy is called Shell.

Citysong, a poetic drama set in Dublin, won the Verity Bargate prize in 2017. It’s marred by the very qualities that must have recommended it to the judging panel. The script is a conspicuous example of ‘fine writing’, which is usually the opposite of good writing. The author, Dylan Coburn Gray, has copied his namesake Dylan Thomas and attempted to recreate Under Milk Wood in present-day Ireland.

Thomas had an amazing ability to make even his most artfully contrived phrases — ‘the heron-priested sea’ — sound conversational and everyday. And he could lure the language into metaphorical channels where it seemed to settle naturally. Coburn Gray’s attempts are laboured by comparison. A character says the crescent moon resembles ‘an eyelash-like sliver-een’. In Dublin Bay the incoming tide ‘tongues’ the rocks. The newborn baby is ‘as calm as a stormless tea-cup’. At times it gets ridiculous. Two ageing lovers dance ‘weekly and cheek-to-cheekly’. Dublin bankers cross the river ‘trans-Liffey-ly’. (Yes, I believe I heard that correctly.) And how about this? A woman completes two crosswords every morning and leaves them on display as ‘an auto-laudatory diptych’. Even Joyce would have baulked at that one.

The writer is far better at creating engaging, contemporary characters. He shows us an angry history teacher from the west of Ireland who wishes he was in the IRA. There’s a confused boy of 13 who watches porn hoping to learn how men ‘spray women’s eggs’ to create a baby. Girls at a disco ogle a couple of gardai (cops), and set about ‘the eighth Catholic sacrament, the entrapment of lawmen’. This stuff is fresh, simple and great to watch. The neologisms that won him the prize can be dropped. Their work is done.

Kill Climate Deniers, Pleasance Theatre, 28 June
Citysong, Soho Theatre, until 6 July

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