Earthquakes in London

Tue 1st – Sat 5th November 2011


Daniel Frampton

at 09:03 on 2nd Nov 2011



Exploding populations, climate change, social dislocation…disaster is impending for Planet Earth. Yet add into this mix a cocktail of burlesque environmental campaigners, Coldplay singing ravers and terrifying mums with prams, and it is not all doom and gloom in Rupert Goold’s thumping production of Bartlett’s Earthquakes in London.

In a substantial change of direction for Bartlett, a writer who has established himself as subtle and minimalist, Earthquakes is about as epic and expansive as a play can get. Spanning from 1969 to 2525 and with a cast encompassing everything from Waterloo bridge drunkards to a 14-year-old autistic boy who turns out to be an unborn baby trying to save his mother from suicide, its innovative use of dance, song, and projection encompasses the frantic and manic energy that drives us all 21st century life.

In amongst all the spectacle however, it is a family affair, the story of three sisters each struggling to cope in modern day London and their absent father, an eminent Cambridge educated scientist, who prophesises the end of the world. In a production that is so unashamedly flashy it is in these scenes that two performers really shine through; Tracy Ann Oberman as Sarah, a stylish, fiery Lib Dem minister who struggles to maintain a balance between saving the world and her husband, and Paul Shelley as her father, Robert, whose witty and dry observations about the state of the planet are convincing, moving, and often hilarious.

Whilst this touring production inevitably looses some the novelty and spectacle of the winding S-shaped cat walk stage created for the original National Theatre production, Caroline Steinbeis’ rethink for more conventional theatre spaces maintains the same dizzying fluidity through a revolve, which is used to full extent as scenes literally merge on to one another, with a beautiful, almost cinematic quality.

As for Bartlett’s writing, I am a fan. It hurtles along at break neck pace, despite the fact that it goes on for almost three hours, and is never short of an insightful line--"It's Weimar time, it's Cabaret across the world." What lets the play down however is the ending. It’s just bizarre. For a start there is not enough earthquake, but it’s also too sentimental, and without giving too much away, is in need of a substantial rethink to make it less surreal.

So, yes it’s preachy, yes it is perhaps a little bit too long, yes it’s slightly barking, but it the most inventive, brilliantly staged and most thought provoking piece that I have seen since Enron, and definitely worth a £9.50 student ticket.


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