Ecological change and subsequent disaster is ubiquitous – from the shoutouts to reduce our carbon footprint to the extra charge of acquiring plastic bags – and it’s often reflected in art. However, Thomas Eccleshare’s vision is a bleakly humorous one – a quite unique angle. With dystopian theatre, there is an inherent fear that our suspension-of-disbelief faculties will be overworked and leave us exhausted and unhappy, but that’s not the case here. Dialogue is used convincingly in forms of reportage of the riots outside – nature juxtaposed with household names “weeds growing in Nandos, rabbits in the yoghurt aisle at Aldi”, with the set used to its full potential as it slowly degrades before us like a crumpled plastic bag. The floor snaps and bends throughout, a tree slowly grows through the heart of the inside of the house as nature slowly takes its hold. Flowers are shot through to the ground and it all feels scarily believable.
The characters do this justice too. The old and young bond in a crisis – Moll (Calder-Marshall) and Arthur (Polly Frame) find each other by chance and an unlikely alliance forms between the pair, with some amusing anecdotes and musing on past and future. The theme of King Arthur and the romanticised notion of Pastoral is explored between the two, which of course has now been completely rewritten. The boys looking after them have to go through the ordeal of nature’s way of exposing under the surface – dealing with hunting and gutting with some funny but ultimately bleak moments. In particular, the plight of the Ocado worker can make you laugh, wince and cry. There are other great moments in the play, but I won’t spoil it – just see it!
All in all, when we see how detached we are from the processes of our lives – and the obsession with the end result and surface – it’s like nature revolting. Their products must be respected, which obviously has not been the case. They mention that they cement the grass to block them out, but now the grasses have become resilient. With all this in mind, it doesn’t feel like a lesson in the classroom.
It’s black comedy of high quality. As Moll says “What’s the difference between a hen night and a zoo? One is where hairy animals are prodded in cages by men in uniforms, the other’s a gift shop.” Hear hear!
Pastoral won the Soho Verity Bargate Award in 2011. There are strong Sci-Fi elements running through the play as nature fights technology as well as the “solution” to the problem. It’s rather reassuring for me and I’m sure many others that this element of science fiction theatre is being recognised and rewarded.