The Contingency Plan

Steve Waters
Sheffield Theatres
Crucible Theatre

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Peter Forbes in 'On the Beach' Credit: Marc Brenner
The Company of 'Resilience' Credit: Marc Brenner
Geraldine Alexander (Tessa) and Joe Bannister (Will) in 'Resilience' Credit: Marc Brenner

The Contingency Plan, originally performed at the Bush Theatre in 2009, comprises two plays about climate change by Steve Waters, On the Beach and Resilience.

The coastal towns of England are threatened by a number of environmental factors, including the melting of the Antarctic ice sheet and the subsequent rise in global sea levels. The plays are bursting with information about climate change and present a range of scientific, political and personal viewpoints made accessible by relating them to the lived experience of a small group of characters in two recognisable contexts.

On the Beach is set on a salt marsh in Norfolk where coastal flooding is an imminent danger. We meet Robin and Jenny, a retired Antarctic glaciologist and his wife, and later his son Will, also engaged in Antarctic research, who has returned home with his recently acquired girlfriend, Sarika, a civil servant working for the Minister for Climate Change. A bitter quarrel between father and son leads to estrangement and, as the skies darken, Robin reveals the extent of his passionate commitment to the environment.

At the beginning of Resilience, the tolling of Big Ben introduces us to a cabinet room in Whitehall. We meet the same actors. Will and Sarika remain the same, but Robin is now Colin Jenks, an erstwhile research colleague in the Antarctic, now an advisor to the Minister for Climate Change; and the unassertive Jenny is now a hard-nosed, ruthless politician, determined to make professional capital out of the climate emergency. A new character is introduced, a lazy, personable, self-seeking Minister for Climate Change, Chris Casson. In contrast to the deep concern for the environment expressed in On the Beach, all of the characters, with the exception of Will, are motivated by cynicism and self-interest.

An interesting and highly adaptable set by Georgia Lowe is used for both productions, providing a convincing space for the cabinet room and with the addition of sound effects and clever use of stage machinery a sobering representation of disaster.

Joe Bannister as Will Paxton and Kiran Landa as Sarika Chatterjee change and develop as characters from one play to the next, give strength to the narrative and provide some of the lighter moments in each play.

Robin Forbes is a tour de force in the contrasting roles of Robin Paxton and Colin Jenks, which give him scope for intense emotional engagement in one play and brash insensitivity in the other. Geraldine Alexander shows her versatility in a convincing transformation from sensitive, anxious, shabby, put-upon Jenny to the super-smart, confident, articulate, risk-taking Tessa.

Paul Ready joins the cast of four as a ridiculous borderline comic Chris Casson, Minister for Climate Change, an almost recognisable figure from contemporary politics and the nearest the plays get to satire. Ready’s performance is energetic and highly entertaining.

At a panel event between the two shows, Steve Waters explained to the audience that he initially couldn’t decide how to approach the subject matter and tried two very different styles, one realistic, the other potentially satirical. The audience is emotionally drawn in to the convincingly real though representational ending of On the Beach and leaves the theatre in sombre mood. The satire in Resilience is well reigned in but presents an unflattering view of parliamentary procedure which stimulates reflection. Play-texts are available to purchase.

Reviewer: Velda Harris