An uncomfortable environmental theme
By Rachel Holkner
Modern churches have the most comfortable chairs. I guess that’s because people just won’t come if their backside falls asleep during the sermon. Fortunately these same chairs are now being used at multi-purpose venues such as Gateway to seat theatre audiences at times when sermons are not being delivered.
But what about when the theatre is a sermon? Extinction by Hannie Rayson, a play on the VCE English list, has an environmental theme that is not always comfortable to hear. This production, directed by Sarah Tierney, has been designed with a student audience in mind, an audience which may not be entirely convinced about seeing a play, let alone a play which carries strong messages the audience might not want to hear.
Going in knowing very little about the story, I was surprised, not unpleasantly, to have my own strong environmental views challenged particularly by the mining magnate character of Harry Jewell. While it felt almost medicinal at times, I appreciated the opportunity for establishing defensive arguments alongside the more traditionally environmentally skewed characters of the empathetic zoologist, Piper and unsentimental vet, Andy.
The play itself is clear and compelling. Set in the near future it takes on a pragmatic environmental message while encompassing economic perspectives. While the first act of Extinction is strongly environmental and explores issues of economics, ecology, the role of research and policy, the second act devolves somewhat into soap opera territory. The characters’ motivations clash and while the deal of bed-hopping that occurs highlights the foibles of human nature, it detracts from the stronger messages that affect communities and ecosystems. The text is a little on the long side and would benefit from an edit to remove repetitive exposition.
The production design of repurposed crates and shipping pallets and tonal costumes emphasised this rendition’s stance on individual action being powerful. The lighting design made terrific use of the venue’s futuristic neon stage lighting and the sound design was as equally evocative.
Tierney’s straightforward direction led to each performance being excellent; Amelia Hunter as the American zoologist; Juan Fernando Monge negotiating the tricky role of a sympathetic mining magnate; Maree Barnett fitting the part of harried university administrator to a tee; the role of her brother the vet by Jesse Thomas negotiating secrecy very capably. These are each morally complex characters with stubborn streaks which with Rayson’s writing navigate the themes extremely effectively.
The seats might be comfortable, but this exploration of the role of human intervention in ecological recovery won’t be. I strongly encourage audiences to attend this short season of Extinction.
Extinction was performed at Gateway Worship & Performing Arts Centre