A white male of above average intelligence attempts to impose important truths on the world through convoluted conversations with his straight-laced alternative girlfriend and his well-adjusted but perhaps emotionally stunted best friend, all the while battling mental deterioration. Add the heavy-handed metaphor of a climatologist with anxiety disorder and you’ve got a show you’ve probably seen before.
Charlie Falkner plays the traumatised, anxiety-crippled lead, Daniel, with great success, achieving realistic characterisation in both gesture and speech. His opposite-by-design girlfriend, Fiona, is given a nuanced weight by Kendra Murphy who adds an Aussie twang to an otherwise generic manic-pixie-dream girl. The other two characters, played by Geneva Gilmour and Dominic Scarf, remain silhouettes of personalities between Meadows’s awkward attempts to pique senses of humanity through emotional parallels. Unfortunately, both the peaks in actors’ performances and subtleties in script are met with inconsistent use of tech, which detracts from each. The use of unnecessary and ubiquitous drones distract from Falkner’s tension, while manic lighting changes over-emphasise his gesture. For a script that repeats images of water, flow, and submersion, the sudden and stark transitions fail to correlate, and disjoint the text from the staging.
From early on the performance presents problematic conceptions of mental illness and appropriate ways to interact with those who experience such. Reductive romanticisation of anxiety to a pill-popping complication for a lead’s career or relationship success oversimplifies the issue and allows it to remain unaddressed until Daniel is pushed into an attack. The subsequent addressing of the disorder, however, also fails to connect with or valuably explore the experience, instead perpetuating inaccurate and harmful misunderstandings. If it needs to be said: hugging, kissing, and/or photographing a person with an anxiety disorder before, during, and/or after an attack without consent is not an appropriate action. Anxiety is not a ‘brave’ artistic expression and love is not the cure.
The most disturbing aspect of the production is the lack of information provided in the program or publicity material about the show’s themes. Other than the legally obligatory strobe and smoke warnings, the audience was given no indication that this isn’t a conventional rom-com with climate facts. The production denied audience members an opportunity to make an informed decision about the content within the play. In combination with no intermission for the 2 hour and 15 minute play, the audience was disallowed any necessary relief or chance of escape. Considering the themes of anxiety, mental disorder, suicide, and miscarriage, this seems a blatant lack of consideration for the welfare of the audience by the production. Any kind of warning prior to the show starting would allow those who need it an opportunity to make the appropriate choice.
While it’s clear Meadows seeks to explore a more personal approach to the climate change dialogue, the over-tried form of troubled man and shallowly drawn supporting chorus did not drive the impending doom of my children and grandchildren’s suffering into my heart, nor did the disturbing treatment of anxiety disorder urge connection or compassion between audience and actor. Unfortunately, strong acting and persuasive (if not disheartening) facts about the state of the climate are not enough to overcome a problematic and poorly executed script.