Writer Dylan Coburn Gray talks how utopia is currently not cool, about hope, despair, good storytelling and climate breakdown in Malaprop Theatre's new show Hothouse, premiering at this month at the Where We Live Festival 2020.
There's nothing climate breakdown doesn't touch. That means that, in a sense, any story you tell about the world right now is a story about climate breakdown. In another sense no story is, because each speaks inadequately to the full scope of the problem. Climate change is nowhere except everywhere. Plus theatre audiences now come pre-deluged in information, which should make us question the deluge's usefulness as a narrative strategy. We all know all the punchy sound bites that terrify, about sea level rising A metres by year B, about only X individuals remaining in photogenic species Y by your Zth birthday. We're all already drowning all the time. We don't need anymore more.
In this situation, everyone at Malaprop feels that good storytelling has to be sly storytelling. We want to tell the truth, but we want to obey Emily Dickinson and 'tell it slant'. So Hothouse is a play about right now, but it's also about Dublin 15 in the 60s and 70s, about the people who agreed to move to unbuilt houses without shops in the hopes that it'd all be there in time for the children. If they hoped for thing never arrives, does that mean it was stupid to hope?
Today is the first day of #HOTHOUSE rehearsals!🎉— MALAPROP Theatre (@MalapropTheatre) February 24, 2020
We're so excited to get started - just LOOK at our wonderful cast: @maevenomahony, @esosaonline, @NicLiamo, Martha Breen & @AmyConroy16!
Catch us @projectarts 18-21 March: https://t.co/SRXlXF9JWe@thisispopbaby #WhereWeLive2020 pic.twitter.com/Z6cNE94Z7h
Hothouse is a play about climate, but it's also about a woman on a cruise ship grieving her mother. Her mother isn't dead yet, but soon will be, but from the perspective of the universe that's true of everyone. When's too soon to start grieving what isn't yet gone? Do we want to get a headstart because we're afraid there isn't world enough and time, that we'll die before we're over the loss?
Hothouse is a play about despair, but it's also about a far future where people more or less like us endure. This is the goofiest bit of the show, because utopia will never be cool. Dystopias are cool! Handmaid's Tale. Hunger Games. The racist show the Game of Thrones guys weren't allowed to make. Dystopias reconcile us to life under Fine Gael, I'm grateful I'm not dead just dying, I'm grateful I'm only starving not starved. Utopia hurts because we can't have it. We're afraid to admit we want it in case it turns out we could have had it sooner if we'd admitted sooner, so instead we laugh at it, we pick holes, we refuse to take it seriously. (Good job Malaprop isn't trying to.)
There's nothing climate breakdown doesn't touch. That means that, in a sense, any story you tell about the world right now is a story about climate breakdown.
Hothouse is a play about the end of the world, but it's also full of jokes and carry on. There's cabaret numbers from endangered birds, karaoke from a lonely whale, lines - both conga and cancan. These gags are not supposed to palliate, ok the world is ending, but let's have a good time while we still can! Jolly nihilism is still nihilism, and like all nihilism, it's seldom those with the most reason to despair despairing. More often it's those who want to deny the possibility – hence abdicate the responsibility – of change, of changing themselves, who insist things are hopeless and by insisting make it true. We've fucked it! Nothing to be done! We can relax until we die.
That's not how we want people to laugh. The jokes in Hothouse are supposed to jolt us in our emotional rut. If you cycle straight down the LUAS tracks, your tyre catches and you smash your face. The only safe way to traverse an entrenched path at your own speed is obliquely. The obliquer, the safer. If we can't cry, it's not enough just to not cry. We have to laugh.
You could think of it like stereopsis; both our eyes see a flat image and because those images diverge, because we can interpret that divergence, we manage to perceive curvature, depth, the fact that there is a surface not currently in view. With two eyes, we can see that there is something we can't see. With two feelings, we can feel that there is something we can't feel. That's the spirit of the show. Come along. Laugh with us. Grieve with us.
Hothouse is at running at Project Arts Centre from Wed 18 – Sat 21 Mar, as part of the Where We Live Festival 2020 (part of St Patrick’s Festival) - find out more here.