According to the programme, there is a film version of Earthquakes in London in development, so it only seems appropriate that Adam Bo Boland has directed this production of Mike Bartlett’s 2010 play with cinematic flair. This very modern British drama slowly unfolds on a purposefully shabby looking set, with various platforms, stairs and compartments allowing the multiple storylines to segue from one to the next with the smoothness of a fade cut. Danny Boyle is a clear inspiration, the production fuelled by high kinetic energy from its young cast and a pumping soundtrack of modern pop. That the opening restaurant scene plays outside the main studio theatre space is yet another example of the production’s modern theatricality.
The narrative resembles a Richard Curtis film with its multiple character arcs and inter-locking stories – something that Boland and movement director Scarlet Wilderink have successfully replicated on stage with the ensemble moving from scene to scene and often playing multiple characters, providing continuity within the complex narrative web. This is far from Love Actually, however; in fact it’s the antithesis. Set in a dystopian, apocalyptic vision of present day Britain, the narrative follows three sisters in the lead up to impending environmental doom: the elder politician (an uptight Ursula Campbell) and her geeky husband (Jerry Marwood); the middle, pregnant sister (an emotional turn from Sarah Savage) and her caring husband (John Hicks); and the younger, rebellious sister (an amusingly quick-witted Natalie Law). All three are struggling to come to terms with their estranged father (Alexander Gordon-Wood), a climate change scientist who has predicted the apocalypse (revealed in flashback).
It’s an overly complicated narrative that takes on too many themes, painted in broad strokes. It touches on family reconciliation in the face of the apocalypse, as well as a depressing and morbid look at parenthood and the politics of environmentalism: what exactly are we leaving behind for our children? Is it even worth giving birth and bringing them into this world? And at the end of the (already over-long) play we must endure a tacked on, quasi-religious sci-fi ending that feels out of place. Boland has attempted to provide clarity, but it’s a tough gig.
Thankfully the talented cast keep the audience entertained across the three hours. Whilst the core protagonists provide some emotional performances, the ensemble as a whole bring the piece alive: from Jamie Biddle and Miri Gellert’s comic turns in multiple roles, to Natalie Law’s brazen one-liners and Jenni Stacy’s wisecracking performance as Peter. The play itself might not be earth-shattering, but this production is a solid, and at times thrilling, interpretation.
Watch: Earthquakes in London runs at the Broadway Theatre, Catford until 25th May.