Review: THE TRIALS, Donmar Warehouse

A climate drama that’s intense but slightly misses the mark

By: Aug. 17, 2022
Review: THE TRIALS, Donmar Warehouse

Review: THE TRIALS, Donmar Warehouse It's the near-future, and the climate crisis is raging. As the generation inheriting the problem, juries of under-18s are trying individual adults for their past climate-irresponsible lifestyles.

We learn that The Trials began with the 1% - the richest, the most over-consuming, the bosses of the big resource-guzzling corporations - but have now moved on to more ordinary folks.

Each adult is tried individually, making a statement in their defence before the 12-strong child jury has an initial 15 minutes to try to reach a majority verdict of guilty or not guilty.

The kids must consider various factors - income levels, permitted climate footprints (although seemingly these weren't in place during the period for which the adults are being tried), and lifestyle choices such as foreign holidays, careers, children, transport and diet.

We see three adults (Nigel Lindsay, Lucy Cohu and Sharon Small) with varying levels of past commitment to the climate cause make their plea statements. They attempt to justify their life choices, in a way that at first seems oddly agitated - until we come to learn the sentence for a guilty verdict.

The casting process used for The Trials is worthy of note. Over 1,300 young people were engaged through schools and community groups, and 206 took part in development workshops supported by the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama and National Youth Theatre.

The resulting young cast, many making their professional stage debuts, is excellent.

Jowana El-Daouk (Gabi) and Joe Locke (Noah) give feisty performances, their characters having a personal axe to grind with their elders or "dinosaurs", a term which the kids frequently use to refer to the older generation.

Charlie Reid, as the largely uninterested Tomaz, brings occasional welcome relief through some very well delivered acerbic lines. Honor Kneafsey (Ren), William Gao (Xander) and Francis Dourado (Mohammad) all give performances that are calm yet powerful.

The Trials presents an interesting concept, and Dawn King's writing is, no doubt, deliberately provocative to push its important message. However, it's occasionally a touch sledgehammery and the central premise feels slightly flawed. Whilst it's possible to imagine climate trials of some type taking place in the future, trials of this nature, with such serious sentences, feel like a flight of fancy too far.

There's also a twist which surely, even in such a future, would be rendered impossible by the rules of procedure of any court of justice.

The suspension of reality needed to overlook these elements, to me at least, somewhat undermines the power of the play's central lesson. Nevertheless, I hope successive audiences will still leave realising that lifestyle decisions have real impacts on the planet, and that we should all do what we can to make better choices.

The Trials runs at Donmar Warehouse until 27 August 2022

Photo Credit: Helen Murray