Review – Earthquakes in London, National Theatre

Sometimes, I wonder why we do it. Why we sit through theatre which is so often painful, boring, overlong, mediocre or – more often than not – just fine and unmemorable and nothing more.

And then comes along a play where everything just comes together, a play which stands up and reminds us why theatre is worth the mediocrity, worth the disappointments, worth the subsidy. Just occasionally, there comes along a play which silences every debate and makes its own argument as to why theatre is important, why theatre is unique – because it is the place where you get moments you get nowhere else.

Earthquakes in London is one of these plays.

The plot follows the three daughters of a prominent climate scientist, as they attempt to deal with his radical theories promising doom to the world: Sarah (Lia Williams) has entered politics and plans to ban all future airport expansion; Jasmine (Jessica Raine – making something of a habit of playing the disgraced teenage relatives of female cabinet ministers in the Cottesloe) engages in boilerplate teenage rebellion; Freya (Anna Madeley, superb) considers infanticide to save her daughter from the horrors of the coming apocolypse.

Mike Bartlett’s writing is complex and intelligent, but remains deft and funny throughout – never preaching (imagine the hours of your life that could disappear on this subject in the hands of the unremittingly worthy David Hare…) but convincing nonetheless.

Rupert Goold’s fluid direction matches the text pound for pound. The staging makes the Cottesloe unrecognisable, transforming the space into a traverse stage of sorts, but one in which the action seems to go on all around you. The use of music is slick, with the cast’s (admittedly slightly incongruous) performance of I Am Not A Robot an inexplicably moving high point.

There are plenty of other examples of lovely directorial touches, but let’s just leave it at this: it works. It all just works.

It’s a strong ensemble, with Anna Madeley and Tom Goodman-Hill getting the best crack at things from the script and impressing most.  It’s s shame that Geoffrey Streatfeild (who has previously impressed) doesn’t get much of a chance to stretch his wings, but this is a great cast and there can be no complaints.

This production is sweeping and epic without being impersonal, important and political without being a thesis, intense and emotional without being mawkish.  It’s everything that a dozen plays have tried and failed to be.

This is a superb play, beautifully and boldly realised by a cast that do both the text and the design justice.

You wait years for a play like this.  Book now.