Have you ever been on a protest outside Churchill Square and forgotten to bring the placards? Or maybe you assembled at Dungeness nuclear plant shouting slogans but forgot to send the press release? Perhaps you weren’t too sure about the key demands?
If so, this play will provide some cruel reminders. But the drama goes way beyond that. The story starts with two women activists getting aboard an oil rig in protest against fossil fuels and global warming. They are articulate and well informed. But things start to get out of hand.
There are flashing red emergency lights, with hapless advice coming from the mainland. Meanwhile, the activists have tied up the engineer in plastic sacks and insisted he doesn’t try any tricks. But, as he points out, they knocked him out with a blow to the head: how does that fit with non-violent direct action?
One of the gang didn’t bring her mobile because she wanted to have a ‘no phone day’. And now there is the important issue of getting dinner delivered from the mainland while maintaining an iron grip on the evil rig. “Pizzas, anyone?” Life has to go on. “Vegan, of course.”
If the rig blows what is the consequence? It’s deadly serious. Maybe the engineer can sort it? He’s still tied up on the floor. But can they trust him? The lights are flashing red! “You remember what happened at Chernobyl, don’t you?” he says.
The play is an imaginative collaboration between Unmasked Theatre (the resident company at Rialto) and Rising Tides (an artists’ collective engaging with the climate emergency). It was written by Luke Ofield, directed by Neil Sheppeck, and stars Pip O’Neil, Aurea Williamson and Gabriel Thompson as the activists with Michael Jayes as the rig’s engineer.
In parts, however, the dramatic tension seemed to lag. If anything, a production with these insights into the activist world could go a tad further and confront the audience with some direct questions. Do people have the right to break the law to protect the planet? Do the ends justify the means? It might make us uncomfortable, but hey, why not? This is theatre not film! That might sharpen the tough dilemmas between the protagonists and plonk them into our laps.
The day after, the Rialto offered us – in true Stanislavski tradition – the physical embodiment of Dylan Thomas’s wife ‘Caitlin’. It brought tears to our eyes and a lump in our throat.
Meanwhile, ‘Accidental Birth’ had seemed to promise an equally energetic albeit contrasting approach – drawing from Brecht – where the characters step out of the play and directly question the audience. Certainly, the title provided a nod to Dario Fo’s ‘Accidental Death’ where the audience is explicitly asked to decide on the play’s ending.
Brits might shift uncomfortably in their seats! But ‘Accidental Birth’ is more than fascinating drama. It will run more miles. It can do more work. Let’s get political!
Rialto Theatre, Thursday 12th May 2022