Guest Blog: Director Nic Connaughton On KILL CLIMATE DENIERS
I first read Kill Climate Deniers in April last year. I'd heard about the play - the Griffin in Sydney was my local theatre in my university days - and I'd heard about the controversy briefly and intermittently over the years. But this was the first time I'd actually read this supposedly sacrilegious play that had inspired Breitbart, Alex Jones's Infowars and every major right-wing Australian press outlet to froth at the mouth with rage.
The first thing that was different was the text. The script was packed full of GIFs, side notes, choose your own adventure sections, a suggested playlist of incredible early 90s techno, even annotated drawings of the characters. And it was fun!
It was also more than just a play, but two plays (or maybe more - there is a whole time-travel element that may or may not exist) woven together, none of which should work. And yet...
One strand charts the play's chequered journey from initial idea in 2014, through to its eventual staging in January 2018. Along this journey, the play had been granted Arts Council funding and its title had been accused of inciting violence, it had been reincarnated firstly as a concept album (you can check it out on Spotify, it's awesome!), been manifested as a self-guided audio tour of Australian Parliament House, as a solo show performed by the playwright, and then it won the 2018 Griffin Playwriting Award and was produced in full.
Alongside this is the main plot - an equally outrageous story of eco-terrorists capturing Parliament House in Canberra during a Fleetwood Mac concert, taking the Government hostage, and threatening to execute everyone unless Australia ends global warming - immediately. These stories intertwine, like an action film wrapped in a TED talk.
It was also funny, but a dark, silly, outrageous and chilling kind of funny. You can't help but scoff at, then fall in love with the hapless Environment Minister Gwen Malkin, and her press advisor Bekken, as they find themselves left as the nation's only hope to avert a fully televised massacre at the hands of Catch, an eco-terrorist for the Instagram generation.
It wasn't until midway through the piece that I, a supposedly liberal theatre-maker, realised I was rooting for the very character who had earlier advocated for the complete blocking of the sun as an effective means to 'solve' the climate 'problem'. But here I was gleefully anticipating the moment when those pesky eco-activists got what was coming to them
What was going on?
Political and social satire - and this play takes aim at politicians, scientists, the media and its audience in equal measure - has a long and storied history in British theatre. But recently, true, merciless satire with its teeth bared has become a dying breed; only on TV have Black Mirror, The Thick of It and others continued to fly the flag.
Whilst there are political and historical plays galore, are any of them actually satirical? Gosh, are any of them even remotely funny? Do they challenge anyone or anything, or are they just reminders of other times and ideals, and principles? Where has the weapon of comedy gone in the interrogations and takedowns of the big ideas and questions of the day? Where is the deliberate, maybe reckless, poking fun at audiences' preconceptions, attitudes, and principles?
Is the British stage too afraid to rock the boat? Maybe it needs an Aussie rocket to remind us what we have been missing?
In recent months, the efforts of climate activists all over the world have placed the dire outlook for the planet on the front page. It's easy to look at specific examples of the toxicity of the climate change debate in Australia as something that couldn't possibly happen in the UK. By looking at the issues through the lens of another country, we want to ask a bigger question: is Climate Denial in Britain's past, or is a hard-right turn to complete social and political denial just around the corner?
These are dangerous questions, and this is a dangerous play for asking them. You get the laughs thrown in for free.
Picture credit: Rianna Dearden and Adriana Rojas