Leaving Planet Earth
4 stars ****
Edinburgh International Climbing Arena, Ratho.
THEY’VE BEEN pioneers of site-specific theatre since 1996; but in all those 17 years, the acclaimed Grid Iron of Edinburgh can never have worked in a space so strange, so vast, and so awe-inspiring as the huge Edinburgh International Climbing Arena at Ratho. By the time we arrive from the city centre, we’ve already learned that in this fictional world – created by young writer-directors Lewis Hetherington and Catrin Evans, with light by Paul Claydon and sound by Philip Pinsky – we are among the last groups of migrants leaving an Old Earth fast becoming uninhabitable through climate change and social meltdown. And as we sweep towards the vast complex, it’s easy to believe that we’re now passing through a Star-Trek type instant transportation to New Earth, the twin planet that offers humankind a chance of survival; and entering the giant dome in which we will live, until we become acclimatised.
So for two hours, once inside, each of three groups, identified by different-coloured flashing wristbands, passes in a slightly different order through a series of induction sessions; and as we go, we begin to glimpse the lives of the people in charge, from the shimmering but vulnerable leader Vela – magnificently played by Lucianne McEvoy – to Finlay Welsh as elderly John, who looks after the planet’s malfunctioning Old Earth Museum, and young Emilia, played by Molly Taylor, whose description of her husband’s growing withdrawal first alerts us to the sacrifice ruthlessly required of migrants, if the “pull” of old earth becomes too great.
If some elements of this Brave New World scenario are familiar, though, the quality of the writing, acting and direction is often superb, perfectly pitched to the huge spaces through which it must move. What’s striking, in the end, is just how credible and almost familiar this New Earth seems, particularly in its strange corporate management-speak that constantly talks of openness, while forbidding any actual freedom of action or thought; and how, by moving us straight to an imagined next phase of human history, the show offers us an extraordinarily wide and passionate perspective on the story of human life on earth, even as we risk destroying it. The task of producing a completely untested original theatre piece for the Edinburgh Festival is a notoriously difficult one; but this time, Grid Iron have created a beautiful, eloquent and technically stunning show, that offers a unique and spectacular future perspective on the most challenging crisis of our time.
Until 24 August
EIF p. 25.