New Atlantis

Michael Keane
LAStheatre
The Crystal

New Atlantis Credit: Andy Franzkowiak
Tricia Kelly as Bryony Weller Credit: Andy Franzkowiak
Claude Starling as Dominic Lyserood and Nicky Goldie as Head of Reform Credit: Andy Franzkowiak
Sam Booth as Leader of Generation Alpha Credit: Andy Franzkowiak

This immersive presentation, appropriately staged in The Crystal, one of the world’s greenest buildings which incorporates rainwater harvesting, solar energy, heat pumps among technology to make it a sustainable structure, transports its audience to the future.

It is 2050 and they become agents attending a meeting of New Atlantis, an intergovernmental organisation. It was founded in 2038 but the extent of its actual authority is not explained. However, were this real life, everyone attending would be very aware of it.

Is it a replacement of the United Nations Organisation, demolished by discord and mismanagement? It is led by a charismatic Secretary General, Bryony Weller (played by Tricia Kelly), but she is not well and announces her resignation to the gathered assembly.

A new leader has to be chosen and the agents now gathered will elect them with a choice from three candidates from the New Atlantis hierarchy: Marcia Weiss (Nicola Blackman) Head of Industry, Major Simeon Giallo (Jonathan Jaynes), Head of Defence and Nicola MacGloss (Nicky Goldie) Head of Reform.

Who will be chosen to lead New Atlantis in a world where Miami has been abandoned due to rising water levels, most of the United States turned into a dustbowl and London itself is drought-ridden?

The organisation has not been timid in exerting authority. The CEOs of two major energy companies have gone to prison for historic climate crimes. But critics argue that that happened only after they had retired from office. A younger generation is also restive, there are currently huge protest demonstrations in Hong Kong led by international group Generation Alpha who have adopted the anarchists' symbol and who heap blame on older generations for the planet’s plight.

Before the three candidates make their personal presentations and that vote takes place, there is the opportunity to visit the presentations of their departments and scientific teams exploring possibilities and researching the oceans, Antarctica, asteroid mining, agriculture, the re-engineering of London’s waterways and naval architecture.

For something over an hour, “agents” can inspect these installations and talk to those representing each department: some played by actors, others actual scientists from University College London, the Pennine Water Group, RAL Space and the Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling who explain the research they are doing.

It is not possible to quiz every department in the time available, but they do seem to know what they are talking about and reveal fascinating research projects (some presumably hypothetical but others based on work that is already happening, for they talk about work done by their predecessors earlier in the century).

Disturbingly, most seem to have the attitudes of pure scientists: interested in assembling data, gathering information rather than developing solutions to climatic and ecological problems.

Defence, unlike its usual euphemistic naming, seemed to represent a military eager to share relevant information to save the planet instead of a the secretive military of the early 21st century, but only in the Reform Department was there talk of what needed to be implemented and how. However, that might prove different with a different audience asking different questions.

For the most part, everything seems scientific and deadly serious, though there is an element of humour in the Water Archive where, among the multiple samples of water taken at different dates and places, Matthew Blake’s Water Librarian claimed among the collection a 4000-year-old sample from the Nile at the time of Moses and water from a river running red with blood after a massacre in the Wars of the Roses. Amusing more perhaps for the serious way it was taken by an audience seemingly believing his deadpan performance.

With the build-up to voting, the action becomes more dramatic but, role-play apart, this is not a particularly theatrical evening. The very valid points being made through the encounters could perhaps be put over more effectively and reach a much wider audience in a television documentary.

The direct experience may plant seed in minds very firmly but I wonder how many will be prepared to pay to attend such an event who do not already support and take action to promote sustainability.

Artistic director Barra Collins and creative director Andy Franzkowiak have created an intriguing format for disseminating ideas and arousing interest but is this effort being spent to preach only to the already converted. I hope I am wrong for their intentions are excellent.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton