Just as the world reaches a peak in climate anxiety, Eva O’Connor and Hildegard Ryan’s Afloat storms into the digital arena of the Edinburgh Fringe. Here, in the probably not too distant future, Dublin is underwater, and best friends Debs and Bláthnaid find that their plans for a spa weekend have sunk.
Having sought shelter in Liberty Hall, Debs (Annette O’Shea) and Bláthnaid (O’Connor) attempt to adapt to their newfound need to survive, with solace only available in a large supply of bourbon biscuits and a single Westlife album. Amongst their endless bickering, flashbacks reveal that their lives are in crisis even before climate change gets involved; Bláthnaid’s seemingly perfect corporate career is shrouded by her crippling anxiety, and Debs is developing a harmful alcohol dependency that has left her jobless. Both are, in a sense, allegories of two sides of the same coin, terrified of what they are about to lose but powerless against the weight of the crumbling world.
In between the chaos of inside Liberty Hall, a scientist (Michael-David McKernan) delivers a terrifying presentation on the looming environmental apocalypse. The dichotomy of personal versus corporate responsibility is cleverly called into question, with a secure answer ostensibly out of reach. McKernan emulates the familiar gestures and tone of a typical TED Talk speaker and adds a sinister touch, which makes the final plot twist, the truth about Debs’ and Bláthnaid’s fate, even more haunting.
Praise must be given for the filming and editing of this production, which offers much more than just a static, end-on lens that many venues settle for. O’Shea and O’Connor could benefit from the atmosphere of a live audience, but both have a commanding stage presence, and the challenge of producing a digital show is deftly handled. Deb and Bláthnaid’s squabbling becomes tiresome towards the end, but perhaps this is intentional, not only to reflect the mundanity of basic survival but to also cause shockwaves when the truth is finally revealed.
Afloat is incredibly multifaceted, driven by both politics and character, underpinned by loss, gratitude, and regret. It cleverly calls for, and yet contributes to, the need for us to stop simply talking about the climate crisis, and actually do something about it. But whose responsibility is it to stop the plug from being pulled? It seems this is yet to be determined.
Afloat is available to watch online throughout the Edinburgh Fringe. For tickets and more information see the Edinburgh Fringe website.