“A real life disaster movie in the sky,” is how the makers of As The World Tipped billed the show and they delivered. High in the sky above Greenwich hung a cinema screen showing the destruction caused by climate change. On that screen dangled five performers and their five trusty counterweights. The fact that this show got past a risk assessment is a marvel.
As The World Tipped is technically flawless, in that the technical side of it is carried out perfectly. The performers interact with the footage being projected on to the screen, whether that be running up an ever increasing global temperature chart, or vaulting through the vast swathe of legislation being created in the talks on how to tackle climate change.
The crowd were very impressed. Even the damp weather couldn’t dampen their spirit as they applauded and cheered whilst the performers carried out their dizzying stunts. The turnout was impressive considering the miserable weather and it cemented the feeling that you were part of something. The message of As The World Tipped is fairly obvious: we have run out of time and must act now to reserve climate change, as excellent a morale as there ever has been. And to get across how important this message is, the bungee assisted aerial dancers turned to powerful imagery. Those who believed climate change was happening due to man-made factors had relied on science and rationality, but nobody listened to that. The time has come to turn to more radical tactics.
One scene in the show has a female performer cast into a pit of fire for her sins. We hear the plane she took on her holiday flying overhead, the next second she is falling into a pit of fire and being burned alive. This is powerful and ancient imagery that resonates with people at a very fundamental level. I feel torn about this. The effect it had on the audience was palpable and their reaction to the entire show is precisely how Wired Aerial Theatre would want them to react. It was well crafted but felt underhand to me, massively manipulative to border on the ridiculous. I was expecting Charlie Brooker to emerge and explain it was all a social experiment, right down to the images of starving villagers looking mournfully at you like it was a Comic Relief special. This is incredibly difficult to write as I am a firm believer in climate change and that we must do more to avert it. It is undeniable that these scare tactics work, I just wish there was another way to get people onside about it.
This has branched away from your traditional theatre review but this was not a traditional piece of theatre. There is only so much you can do whilst dangling on a bungee cord attached to a cinema screen, and it turns out that it can be chillingly effective. I’d call it gratuitous, but this show was made for a good cause. Time is up and they see the means justifying the end, and with so much at stake I almost agree with them.
These aerial performances are in vogue recently. I saw another two during the Cultural Olympics last year before they had suffered from a lack of narrative and focus. As The World Tipped did not have much of a story but demonstrated in spades what it was about. If we do nothing we will all soon die from climate change. And no amount of bungee cord can save us from it.
As The World Tipped played at Greenwich National Maritime Museum, the show run has now ended. For more information please see the Greenwich + Docklands International Festival website.