The coming apocalypse and how to avoid it
Indigenous Quechua people of the Peruvian Andes tell of a legend, known as the Eagle and the Condor. Representing two distinct ways of being, the Eagle is far-seeing, rational and structured, and the Condor is nature-connected, intuitive and wise. The story follows the Inca concept of Pachakutic (named after the creator of the Inca Empire), meaning “Earth changer”, that every five centuries a grand political shift will happen.
The last such 500-year period, starting eerily close to the beginning of the European Age of Exploration (i.e., colonialism) and ending around 1990, would be dominated by the industrious Eagle people. The following 500 years (i.e., now), it is said, would see the near-decimated Condor peoples return to strength, and come together with the Eagle people to bring a restorative new age of wisdom and harmony which would save the world from apocalypse.
But isn’t this a theatre review? Yep - and that’s just the first five minutes or so of HOT IN HERE, an original production from Pigfoot, the UK’s first carbon neutral theatre company. For one day (and night) only they’re popping up at Nonsuch Studios; I catch the matinee on an unseasonably warm nearly-November afternoon.
As it turns out the Quechua prophecy also bookends and contains the rest of this wild, thought-provoking show. I could easily write a whole piece on the reading about the Eagle and the Condor that this has spurred me onto in the few hours since I watched this dazzling performance. Alas, I’ll have to save that one for a rainy day.
“A protest. A theatre show. An energy-generating dance party”, is how HOT IN HERE describes itself on the ticket page strapline. But whilst we do get to enjoy all that, we’re also given a whirlwind tour of our climate predicament, and the voices of those raising action - with particular emphasis on the Global South and those often underrepresented. Even as something of a geek on all things environmental, I’m learning new facts, names, and (perhaps most importantly) perspectives all the way through. They could call it “An Education” too, but that probably wouldn’t sound as much fun.
There are just three actors on stage throughout, who also devised the play; AK Golding (they/she), Elizabeth Ayodele (she/her), and Keziah Joseph, but each takes on many roles. The story switches between a few interwoven core storylines, along with a number of detours. One such detour shines a light on forgotten scientists and climate justice activists, all of which I (and seemingly the rest of the crowd, asked to admit it) have never heard of, like Eunice Newton Foote who first uncovered the greenhouse effect in a paper published in 1856, Hazel Johnson who birthed the environmental justice movement, or Benny Rothman who led the Kinder Scout Mass Trespass that birthed the creation of the Peak District as the UK’s first national park.
A whirlwind tour of our climate predicament
Each character is completely resonant and believable, with comedic touches garnering laughter from the audience without ever feeling contrived or corny. Performances throughout were consistently convincing, despite the huge diversity of accents and situations on show. All the material and characters are treated with love, compassion, and honesty.
Actors are joined virtually by 29 climate activists from around the world via pre-recorded videos, all projected onto a cardboard screen back of stage. Togo, Canada, Russia, The Gambia, Singapore, Colombia, Australia, Costa Rica… It was hard to keep count of the number of countries represented, but thankfully the after-show notes, accessed via QR code, were stuffed full of links and names. But this was by no means a lecture - storytelling and audience engagement was critical, and given enthusiastically. With a full range of ages in attendance, even the fidgety teenagers couldn’t resist joining in with the dance moves and verbal responses.
The promised power-generating dance floor sees platforms illuminate in sync to actors’ movements, the satisfyingly upcycled-looking set includes a cardboard projector screen, and with the eco credentials obvious throughout (we’re even encouraged to arrive in as eco-friendly a style as possible, and I duly took the tram) it was a well-oiled technical and environmentally conscious feat. All this thoughtfully combined with the live action elements, and made highly accessible and easier to pick up on the rich details, through creatively displayed captions for every bit of both the performed and pre-recorded dialogue.
I had initially wondered where all these seemingly disparate storylines would eventually meet and how this whole thing would thread through, what with it covering an unfathomable amount of ground and varying angles in such a short space of time. But it all comes together neatly; storylines are wrapped up well in the bosom of the overarching prophecy narrative. I left feeling totally satisfied. Co-Directors Hetty Hodgson and Bea Udale-Smith and their team have absolutely nailed pulling all these threads together.
If I had to force one criticism, the detour into the shocking hypocrisy and “green crap” cutting of British Prime Ministers from David Cameron onwards when it comes to climate change issues missed off Rishi Sunak - come on, keep up! I joke… Sunak is the third person to hold said position in the last two months as I write, and his tenure only began on the first day of this tour, only three days ago. They did well to include Liz Truss, which must have itself been quite a late addition to this assiduously crafted piece. For balance and in the prophesied spirit of harmony - Margaret Thatcher actually wiped the floor with these recent pretenders in this department. Her ground-breaking 1989 UN speech insisted on the need for system change and cooperation on climate change, laying the ground for the (snappily named) United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992. The dates fit in pretty neatly with the Eagle and the Condor thing, right?
All in all, HOT IN HERE is a high-energy, outstandingly executed and searingly relevant piece, holding broad appeal and interest for the proudly eco-woke, whilst packing enough lightness, humour, and humanity to stir even the most stubbornly climate comatose. After watching this inspiring and hopeful work, I’ve got the wind in my sails.
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