London, 2040. The street throbs under a thick layer of traffic. Yesterday’s youth have grown up with a mask clamped over their mouths. They wade blindly through the clogged arteries of a wheezing city, dense, heavy smog crawling over them like a rolling swarm of crabs. They turn to face the audience. Speech is impossible through the dense wall of fabric, but they stare ahead with furrowed brows, and eyes that seem to say, ‘this is what you’ve done to us’.
Could this be the future? Or just a fictional piece of parabolic hyperbole? All we know is that within the first five days of 2017, London had already surpassed its annual limit on air pollution. We also know it will be the youth, targets of the greatest modern crisis in which they weren’t even complicit, who must stoically accept this burden. Well, instead of being hushed under the thumb of conceited naysayers, the youth have something to say about this.
Fog Everywhere was born of a collaboration between Westminster Kingsway College and the Lung Biology Group at King’s College. It kicks off the Shoot The Breeze festival at the Camden People’s Theatre, a two-week plunge into the colossal realm of climate change and environmental issues.
Yes, the concept sounds vast and overly academic, making the odd toenail trim sound almost exhilarating, but the key is in the execution. The eight-strong cast wield the right amount of comedic prowess to plump up the corners of an otherwise arduous topic. A mishmash of standalone sketches, the play does not weave one particular thread. It lurches between humorous, sitcom-style skits, physical theatre numbers, and fourth-wall-breaking breathing activities. This plays intensely to the strengths of the young actors, who, at 17-18 years old, have yet to develop the slickness and consistency honed by more experienced performers.
That said, the opening scenes tend to plod along to a sluggish tempo. Occasionally, the show becomes a tedious production line in which every character performs the exact same action one after the other. In one instance, it involves that well-known spectator sport of blowing up balloons. Each character takes it in turns to pump one up with a single breath, and then anxiously crosses their fingers as it is meticulously analysed with a tape measure. The reason for this demonstration is clear: lung capacity in young people has decreased, and toxic air is to blame. Unfortunately, the long-windedness of the scene makes it feel more like an amble through the park than a frantic scramble to save the children.
The show’s triumph lies in other scenes. Driven along by an endless supply of creativity, the actors morph between human and animal, past and present, casting light on the far-reaching effects of carbon emissions. Flora the Cow (who may or may not be one of the actors in a pair of fluffy ears) could tug at the heartstrings of even the most heartless of nightclub bouncers. Her story is told through a muted display of lifelike bovine movements, as Flora is struck down by a seemingly invisible force that leaves the herd horrified (spoiler: it’s pollution). Afterwards, the herd breaks out into a sullen song to the background of harmonised ‘moo’s; a sort of cow-quartet, if you will.
Productions of a more mature cast are easily one-upped by the young cast’s readiness to embrace the avant-garde. Fog Everywhere is a play, but it is also a concert, a sitcom, a science lesson, and a rap battle. The production errs on the side of the amateur, despite Brian Logan’s sharp direction and various standout performances, yet it’s hard to compare something that doesn’t allow itself to be put in a box.
It’s an evening of fun interjected with a burst of passion. Perhaps, then, it is also an evening of hope. Young people run the risk of becoming the Floras of this world, but young people are the very ones who can save them.
Fog Everywhere is playing Camden People’s Theatre until November 11 2017.
Photo: Conrad Murray