You’re Safe Til 2024: Deep History
David Finnigan and the Barbican, London
Barbican Centre (The Pit)
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David Finnigan gives us a personal and layered account of climate change that centres on 2019 but includes world history, his childhood and key events in his dad’s life.
He opens the show like an amiable informal TED talk, speaking directly to the audience, “acknowledging first nation people” and playing snippets of popular songs of 2019. He also points out Australia suffered unprecedented fires that year. His friend Jack got caught up in those fires and his worries about the danger they posed for Jack punctuate the performance and dominate the last section of the show.
One of his “earliest memories is of climate deniers” who were encouraged by fossil fuel companies to discount and distort the work of scientists. Showing a training video example of how the process worked on his dad, a climate scientist, he argues that “we need to change the way” the subject is presented and suggests that theatre can help.
An opportunity comes when in 2019 his dad is unable to complete a piece of writing due to illness and David decides to turn it into this talk. He gives it an unnamed woman “protagonist” who walks through six periods of world history, her scenes being depicted in a more lyrical language.
The first almost wiped out humanity except for a small number surviving in the Ethiopian highlands. During this historical journey, our humanoid cousins such as the Neanderthal become extinct. But each period carried a lesson that he lists on the board. The first is that “survival is possible”. The second is that “we can adapt”. The third notes that “not everyone will make it”. The fourth is to “take power at all costs” and if that last one (he doesn’t get any further in the list) seems a bit vague, it is probably because he is increasingly distracted by messages from Jack whose safety he worries about.
The pace suddenly quickens and is emphasised by a thudding soundscape and a scary video of an emergency vehicle driving through a burning forest as he details the horror of the Australian fires that consumed more than 5.8 million hectares and generated smoke that made it difficult to breathe outside. He also mentions the 2,000 nuclear explosions since 1945 and the plastics we consume through the air we breathe.
The show holds our attention but seems to lack a focus. It feels more like fragments of a story rather than an actual story. It is hard to work out where it's going or its point. You might imagine the history section was reassuring us that we can adapt and survive despite the casual mention of the number of people wiped out. He repeats that idea a number of times, even suggesting we enjoy other things in this “climate period which will come to an end.”
Jack survives the horrific fires and by the end of the performance you have had a snapshot of David Finnigan’s life that includes various random references to climate change, but those fragments probably have less power to improve our understanding of climate change than some ancient film clips of fictional Hollywood disaster movies.
Reviewer: Keith Mckenna