by Hannah Thomson

Greenland – The National Theatre, London

When we think of climate change, what comes to mind? Wild weather? Wildlife? Wild parties? The first two almost certainly. The third might be more of a surprise. Greenland, The National Theatre’s ambitious look at the most complex issue of our time, gives us all three and much, much more.

Knowing that big issues need a big response, The National asked four writers – Moira Buffini, Matt Charman, Penelope Skinner and Jack Thorne – to collaborate and create a piece of documentary theatre looking at where we stand in relation to our changing planet. The writers spent six months interviewing people in the world of climate change, and wove their stories  together into a unique contemporary snapshot.

Director Bijan Sheibani brings this snapshot vividly to life on stage, and Bunny Christie’s set design is dazzling. Plastic bottles fall from the sky and transform the scene into an arctic landscape. Towards the end of the play, a snowstorm of recycled paper blows out across the audience. Even a polar bear makes a breath-taking appearance!

But before the arrival of these arctic conditions, the writers asked: How do you solve a problem like climate change?

The responses are many and varied. While the hippies and activists put their energy into dancing the night away and marching off into the sunrise, the climatologist adjusts his climate models in an effort to predict the worst-case scenario. A student harangues us with apocalyptic statistics. The geographer studies changes in arctic bird life. Meanwhile, those of us without a specialist subject wonder whether rinsing out milk bottles and recycling our packaging is just a drop in the potentially warming ocean.

Greenland is epic, awesome and at times confusing. Just like the issue it tackles. None of its multiple viewpoints is definitive.  Greenland is not always easy to watch, because it confronts us with ourselves. The student who evangelically preaches the climate change message provokes irritation, rather than inspiration – while the character who feels guilty about that daily ‘treat’ cup of coffee from Starbucks is uncomfortably familiar!

Greenland honestly reflects where we are right now. We are numbed by numbers, and in the dark about what to do next. We need someone to switch on the (energy-saving) lightbulb and shed a little light on things.

The National Theatre is doing its bit by curating an excellent programme of events around Greenland, where members of the public can put their questions directly to climate specialists.

And, of course, the Energy Saving Trust continues to be a reliable resource for advice and information. Call our advice centre on 0800 512 012 to see what energy-saving changes you can make – just don’t ask us to wash your milk bottles!