Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
This latest season of A Play, A Pie and A Pint promises to be a good ‘un. Hot on the heels of last week’s sprightly Until It’s Gone comes Burning Bright, Áine King’s apocalyptic depiction of the climate crisis engulfing us. It’s no surprise to learn that this play won the 2022 David MacLennan award: it’s evocative and visual, a big story told in small fragments, as economical as poetry.
We are presented with three disparate narratives, linked by an over-arching theme of environmental collapse. Suzanne Magowan is a TV journalist desperately chasing a story about Australian wildfires, more interested in saving her career than in saving the earth. Hannah Jarrett-Scott plays a grief-stricken young woman with an eco-tourism business, taking rich adventurers on her boat, The Ice Princess, to see the polar ice caps before they’re gone. And Adam Buksh is a survivor: he’s escaped floods and tigers in his native India, and now he’s navigating racism on his Glasgow street.
The performances are all strong, the characters compellingly portrayed, and the writing is gorgeously cinematic – the image of a blazing horse, for example, is horribly mesmerising. Roxana Haines (director), Gemma Patchett and Jonny Scott (designers) achieve astonishing things with a tiny stage and a minimal set, so that it’s easy to suspend my disbelief and accept that I am, simultaneously, in the Arctic, Australia, Scotland and India, witnessing fire, floods and melting ice caps.
The conceit works to emphasise the ubiquity and urgency of climate breakdown. Even these characters, closer to the epicentres of disaster than most of us, are each only aware of one aspect of the problem. But here in the audience, we are shown the cumulative effect: their monologues are tangled and entwined, so that we see their interdependence and the extent of the catastrophe that’s looming over us. The image is there throughout, cleverly captured in the juxtaposition of the encroaching wave of plastic waste that dominates the set, and the tiny dinghy representing our precarious position.
Burning Bright is a superbly accomplished piece of theatre, skilfully illuminating why climate change is an issue we can’t afford to ignore.