EDINBURGH INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL
LEAVING PLANET EARTH
EDINBURGH INTERNATIONAL CLIMBING ARENA, RATHO
Reviewed by Mark Brown
The human race stands on the edge of a precipice. World War Three has brought us to the brink of extinction. In England, civil unrest has been so violent that it has brought about the Second Great Fire of London. However, thank heavens for small mercies, Jon Snow of Channel Four News has survived to tell the dystopian tale.
Thus begins Leaving Planet Earth, the sci-fi thriller by Edinburgh-based, site-specific theatre company Grid Iron. We garner the latest news from our dying planet as we, the final people to the make the “jump” from Old Earth to New Earth, travel by coach to the Edinburgh International Climbing Arena at Ratho, which doubles, convincingly, as the induction centre for new arrivals on the stellar colony.
What follows is an intriguingly dualistic piece of promenade theatre. Wearing our “personal quantifiers” (which monitor everything from our breathing to our “happiness”), we are guided around the centre experiencing, by turns, the stages of induction and a human drama among the leading colonists.
Like all science fiction, this piece (which was written and directed by Catrin Evans and Lewis Hetherington) is much less about another planet in another time than it is about the condition of humanity in the here and now. It would be unfair to reveal details of the master plan of Vela, the one-time disaster relief specialist who became the leader of New Earth. Suffice it to say that it raises important questions about utopian visions, the future of democracy and the very nature of humanity.
Site-specific theatre lives or dies by the selection of its location. Grid Iron have, once again, chosen a venue which serves their purposes brilliantly. The designs introduced by the company (from set and costumes, to sound and video) enhance the building’s atmosphere impressively.
Which is not to say that the piece is without its problems. The script itself is, at times, too much like a futuristic soap opera. More significantly, one can’t help but feel that the final scene, whilst chilling in its use of rhetoric, should have a greater emotional resonance, given the scale of the events it is depicting.
Nevertheless, Leaving Planet Earth is an extraordinary undertaking and one in which Grid Iron, ultimately, succeeds thanks to an inspired combination of logistical know-how and theatrical imagination.
Leaving Planet Earth runs until August 24. For further information, visit: eif.co.uk
This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on August 12 , 2013:
© Mark Brown