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Invisible Storms: theatre with a purpose

Corinna Lotz reviews a new play about climate change 4 stars

Late one night, a young Polish woman knocks on the door of her would-be London employer. With her charming broken English, Katya exploits deliberate misunderstandings to inveigle her way into the Barnham’s staid middle-class household. She seems to be just another East European single parent determined to get what she can out of a well-off English family by playing on Conor Barnham’s conscience.

Invisible Storms
Sarah Louise Young, Photo: Graham Michael

In a delightful comic opening Katya (Sarah Louise Young) runs rings around the indecisive civil servant Conor (Benjamin Peters).  We see the servant get the better of the master in a 21st century update of Pinter’s brilliant anxiety-ridden The Servant. Young carries off the role with subtlety and bravado, her bright confidence contrasting with Peter’s cringing and squirming as he is forced to retreat.

In a parallel story, far away from London, on the Norfolk coast, Richard (Richard Atwill) mourns the untimely loss of his father, who struggled for years to protect his land from the encroaching sea. He thrusts a packet of letters into his sister’s hands to persuade her to take up the cudgels. Abandoned and betrayed by the Environment Agency, the council and the government, they prepare a final strategy to persuade the authorities to build a sea wall.

The connection between these two stories contained in Invisible Storms unfolds in a dramatic way and Jamie Harper and Dan Muirden’s new play is a remarkable piece of devised theatre. This is a form of acting – also known as creative collaboration – which was pioneered by Jerzy Grotowski, Peter Brook and Joan Littlewood in the 1960s.

In the packed Cock Tavern’s upstairs theatre space, the almost total naturalism is astounding. Instead of actors reciting lines, the dividing line between theatre and reality simply melts away. The starkly simple sets and evocative sound effects give full play to intense human drama. Comic moments and personal tragedies become all the more affecting as a result.

This is real theatre with a real contemporary relevance as we see the spectacle of politicians and state bureaucrats play the property market in the name of so-called economic necessity and supposedly uncontrollable natural forces.

Here is an intense and valiant demonstration of not simply the human cost of climate change, but the utter cynicism of government and local authority reaction to it. Stung by government high-handedness and inaction, people try to take matters into their own hands.

There is real tragedy in the denouement. My only hesitation in feeling more about the outcome of the story was that the limitation to individual reaction to a personal tragedy seems to rob the drama of a possible wider significance.

Invisible Storms joins Steve Waters’ On the Beach and The Contingency Plan double bill at the Bush Theatre in stirring debate about the personal and political realities of climate change. Harper is a recent winner of the JMK Directors’ award and an associate director of the Rose Theatre in Kingston. Dan Muirden is working on a new play, Crash, Burn. We wait in suspense. Meanwhile, don’t miss this play.

12 May 2009

Invisible Storms is at the Cock Tavern Theatre in Kilburn until 30 May. Tuesday – Saturday 8pm

Cock Tavern Theatre, 125 Kilburn High Road, London, NW6 6JH 08444 771 000
Tickets £12 (£10 concessions) Transport Kilburn (Jubilee Line) or Kilburn Park (Bakerloo Line)

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