Review: Anthropocene: The Human Era, Oxford Playhouse
5.0Overall Score

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Anthropocene: The Human Era is a new choose-your-own-adventure production, presented by physical theatre ensemble GymJam in collaboration with Oxford Playhouse, which puts a spotlight on the impact that humans are having on the planet. The narrative is constructed around a young woman awaiting the results of a pregnancy test, inspired by the Birth Strikers who are refusing to have children amid the current climate emergency.

The format of the show is incredibly clever because having the viewer make choices at regular intervals encourages an investment in the subject matter and prohibits the option of being a passive bystander on the journey. This directly parallels the theme of the show – we have the choice and control over what we are doing to the planet. The first choices of the piece are small, almost insignificant ones, but grow more impactful as the show progresses, again echoing how small changes can soon build into big differences. This inevitably leads to the final, self-aware, fork in the road:  whether we should ‘remember’ or ‘forget’ the events we have witnessed throughout the course of the production.

The piece may be rooted in a serious conversation, but it is in no way a morbid event. Littered throughout the piece are witty references to pop culture, camp caricatures and humorous detours to lighten the mood. A particularly enjoyable sequence sees the potential mum-to-be, played beautifully by Megan Noakes, swiping through her news feed crammed with recognisable memes, TikTok dances and even a nod to the Tiger King craze of last year. The presentation of the production is outstanding and the psychical theatre scenes are interwoven with the naturalistic film using stunning transitions. From the quality of the camera shots, to the edited together images of global destruction, to the sleek physical theatre sequences; there is such a high standard of execution and attention to detail.

The show must also be commended for its use of sound in such a brilliant way, using soundscapes to build atmosphere and news clips to support the narrative, with scripted speech rarely involved. In fact, the moments where the ensemble do speak amongst themselves are often deliberately muffled, placing focus on the visual storytelling which is far more universal. The climate crisis is an issue affecting everyone and, without the specifics of speech, each viewer can draw their own connection to the narrative.

Anthropocene: The Human Era is clearly designed to stick with the viewer after the credits roll, but what is particularly important is that it is not meant to inspire shame. This is captured best when a voiceover states “It’s not just the people who call themselves activists… even if you do a tiny thing for the climate, whatever it may be, however small it may be – you are part of this network of people that is pushing for change”. The production is about encouraging action, not placing blame, and therefore makes for a very enjoyable experience.

Anthropocene: The Human Era is playing online until 10th May. For more information and tickets, see Oxford Playhouse’s website.