Griffin Theatre Company’s production of Kill Climate Deniers represents a significant milestone in the life of the play. In 2014, Julian Hobba of Aspen Island Theatre Company in Canberra commissioned David Finnigan to create a work focused on climate change and Australian politics. Finnigan subsequently penned Kill Climate Deniers, which was nominated for the 2014 Max Afford National Playwrights Award.
But a controversy emerged when conservative commentator Andrew Bolt became outraged after learning that the ACT Government had provided $19,000 for the development of Finnigan’s play. The original production was eventually shut down. News of the government-funded play with such an inflammatory title even reached Breitbart News, the far-right American website, whose previous executive chairman was former adviser to US President Donald Trump, Steve Bannon.
Fortunately, the ensuing coverage was not the end of the story. Last year, Kill Climate Deniers was the recipient of the Griffin Theatre Playwrights Award, and the Griffin Theatre Company programmed the piece as its season opener for 2018. Under the direction of Griffin’s artistic director, Lee Lewis, the production has just opened.
Despite assumptions to the contrary, Kill Climate Deniers is not Finnigan’s unapologetic call to audiences to take the lives of those unpersuaded by the science of climate change. Instead, this satirical piece tells the story of a militant group of eco-activists, led by spokeswoman Catch (Lucia Mastrantone), who storm Parliament House during a special Fleetwood Mac concert, taking all of those in attendance hostage. The militants insist that immediate action be taken to halt climate change. Their threat is that should this not occur, they’ll begin to execute their 1,700 hostages.
Thoroughly original and astutely written, Kill Climate Deniers compels us to contemplate what it will actually take for governments to take meaningful, impactful measures to address climate change. More than that, however, it also prompts thought as to whether it is climate change activists, or their opponents, who have truly grappled with exactly what such action will mean for our way of life. It’s a disturbing reality that Finnigan forces us to consider – will we actually live to see a large-scale concerted effort for conservation of the planet?
But rather than getting us bogged down in a dense and solemn presentation of grim realities, Kill Climate Deniers is an immensely entertaining piece, with wonderful comedy and a soundtrack that includes a host of nineties classics (Black Box’s ‘Ride on time’, EMF’s ‘Unbelievable’, and Haddaway’s ‘What is love?’ are all in the mix). What is also noteworthy is that, in updating the text for Griffin’s production, Finnigan has incorporated the Bolt-induced controversy, which has further enhanced and contexualised the piece. Lewis’ smart direction ensures the text engages as it should, and that the pace of the 90-minute play is cracking, while Trent Suidgeest’s lighting design evokes an appropriate dance party vibe.
Each of the five performers is precisely the right fit for Finnigan’s story. Rebecca Massey is the stand out as Gwen Malkin, the Federal Environment Minister who, sensitive to the political realities of election cycles, doesn’t quite grasp the gravity of the pressing issues in her portfolio. This lands her in strife early on in the piece. Massey’s is a skilled, funny and energetic performance. As Georgina Bekken, her media adviser (though primarily tasked with looking after Malkin’s social media presence), Sheridan Harbridge also shows excellent comedic timing and the ability to convince in a variety of guises.
On the other side of the fence, Mastrantone delivers as the leader of the eco-activists, hell bent on doing whatever it takes to stimulate action against climate change, and Emily Havea is similarly convincing in the role of a comrade. Havea also demonstrates her own comedic ability as TV journalist Beverly Ile who, in Bekken’s words, is like the result if “a lot of moderate centrist media personalities …. all got together and had one extraordinary baby”. Ile only briefly appears but Havea makes her fleeting time on stage in the role memorable.
And playing Finnigan himself is Eden Falk, who inserts the writer as narrator. Finnigan’s decision to add his own voice to the play brings sharply into focus the issues at its heart with explanatory asides, graphics and the setting of context. His final monologue sends us out into the night, envisaging a future with which, he admits, he’s yet been able to come to terms.
Kill Climate Deniers is a terrific start to Griffin’s 2018 season, bringing together a fine cast in a thoughtfully crafted fresh work. The ever-increasing implacability of both sides in any political or social discourse has led to a paralysis, which is what will surely lead to our demise. Those who bother to learn more about this play than its title will soon find out that its contents are far more provocative.
KILL CLIMATE DENIERS – SEASON DETAILS
Venue: Griffin Theatre Company, SBW Stables Theatre (10 Nimrod Street, Kings Cross)
Dates: Playing now until 7 April, 2018
Times: Monday – Friday 7pm, Saturday, 2pm & 7pm, Wednesday 4 April 2pm & 7pm