There is a lot of theatre out there trying to tackle today’s ‘big issues:’ Brexit, Trump, climate change… the world is undeniably not at its best at the moment. Theatre is a powerful tool to engender change and platform political protest but if done badly it can fall into the category of ‘urgh, tell me something I don’t know,’ perhaps accompanied with a dramatic eye roll. Unfortunately Pigfoot theatre’s climate change musical, How To Save A Rock, falls into this category.
As we enter we are greeted by a rather manic scene: three mad scientists running around to a frantically played accordion. The actors behind these scientists, Stephanie OCampo, Antonia Strafford-Taylor and Will Stevens certainly have the energy and commitment necessary when portraying such farcical characters meaning the room feels very alive as we take our seats. However as the play begins we are waiting for the mania to die down and, mainly, for the accordion player to chill out a bit. But he doesn’t, and I find myself feeling trapped in this never-ending farcical loop of noise. The accordion is so noisy in fact, that I can hardly hear most of the dialogue and it quickly becomes very tedious.
It’s quite a relief at first when OCampo, Strafford-Taylor and Stevens change out of their scientist costumes and become three millennials trying to save a polar bear. However, their characters are almost as 2D as the scientists – but without the humour. To top it off, the accordion comes back – and keeps coming back – haphazardly, for no apparent reason. Having it as a backing for the songs makes sense to me but having it randomly playing throughout the dialogue makes it seem like the space is being shared with a rehearsal for the accordion championships.
We are given a piece of paper with the instruction ‘the world is ending, write what you would save.’ My first thought is if I’m allowed to write the world? But after a little internal debate I write humans as a compromise to try to not to look like too much of a smart-ass. Like much of the play the task feels patronising, why not have the audience write something like a pledge of how we will change something to lower our carbon footprints? Something a little more relevant and less hypothetical rather than a question that seemed like it was directed at children.
Indeed, while I’m cringing at the story and the songs (one of which involves the audience singing along that ‘we stand here together’) I do appreciate their overall message is a good one and I realise it would be a perfect show for primary schools, raising awareness about climate change for kids. Vault Festival certainly isn’t the place for it.
The set at least is very innovative. There are bikes onstage which the audience are sometimes asked to pedal, which power the lighting. All their production materials are recycled. They use old cans to do voice overs during their travels like a news reporter on the car radio or a train conductor which was also very clever. Clearly Pigfoot are capable of creating something truly unique, but sadly these were the only points they demonstrated this.
On the whole, How To Save A Rock is a lesson that when you try too hard to create something meaningful you will end up with something meaningless (oh – and that just a few minutes of accordion is quite enough).