It is a Wednesday evening and the second week of Glasgow’s COP26 Summit. At this point, I am becoming increasingly numb to certain phrases like climate action, green energy, and sustainability. The climate change ‘debate’ feels a bit removed from me, I do my bit, I do not drive, recycle, turn off the lights and taps when they aren’t in use. My timeline is flooded with pictures of middle-class retirees gluing themselves to police cars, and I have a press invite to honour. How To Save The Planet When You’re a Young Carer and Broke presented by Boundless Theatre promises to be a unique and sustainable performance. Its marketing positions it as a response to the climate emergency billing it as funny and relevant with the lure of live music.
And it is all these things and more!
The solo show’s set-up is stripped back, the audience is seated around the stage on stools, cushions, and sofas. It is a very intimate atmosphere, staging is minimal with multi-coloured lightbulbs, a single chair, a cloth handmade protest banner pinned to the wall, tech and music are exposed back left. Elizabeth Ayodele comes out holding up a piece of paper with a list of items such as a water bottle, keys, phone etc. Ayodele informs us that as the production is a sustainable one, they will be borrowing items from the audience, ensuring it is all covid-secure and sanitised. Audience members volunteer items, my black beanie becomes a steak-head later on in the play (you’ll have to watch the play to get the reference). Some audience members are given portable lights and instructions on how and when they are to be used by stage manager Aime Neeme, and the play begins.
The play centres on a young carer: Lavisha Smith an intelligent mixed-race and working-class 14-year-old Londoner, who is transplanted to Bognor due to housing issues. Lavisha cares for her mum who suffers from lupus which manifests itself as crippling pain that restricts her from both work and domestic life. At her new school Lavisha does not fit in with her middle class, posh classmates, particularly self-proclaimed climate activist Avril. Avril is earnest and passionate albeit slightly terrifying, instituting meat-free Mondays and banning all single-use plastics on campus. She congratulates Lavisha on wearing charity shop purchases and mistakes her visit to the foodbank as volunteering. The beauty of Nessah Muthy’s writing is that it takes a well-known stereotype and widens it, exposing the humanity behind it, as well as the prejudices that form them. Therefore, a posh climate warrior becomes the sole survivor of a devastating flood in West Bengal, but she is still intense and domineering. A poor middle-class girl from an estate becomes the face of a nationwide climate movement.
How To Save The Planet When You’re a Young Carer and Broke is a play that handles serious issues of class politics, disability, social mobility and the climate emergency with prowess and sensitivity all the while being playful. Do not go into this play expecting to be beaten over the head by the so-called ‘climate agenda.’ Muthy’s writing is much more subtle than this, it is humorous, beguiling and alluring. The play incorporates music, and songs in an interesting way. Part of its charm is the range of musical genres it plays with, going from electro-synth to lyrical and energetic, to sultry RnB vocals to angry hardcore rock anthems about metal straws and the luxury of veganism. The live vocals produced by Ayodele are impressive, as is the additional vocal and instrumental support from composer Neeta Sarl who at times anthropomorphised as mother earth. It acts as a surreal break from the very real, and often difficult decisions Lavisha is having to make around supporting her mum and building friendships, protesting climate change. Ayodele’s performance is vivacious and raw, one that does not align with the discovery of it being her professional debut. Elizabeth Ayodele’s character transitions are seamless, and they occupy a distinct difference in physicality on the stage, it was truly a delight to behold.
The play ends with Ayodele breaking the fourth wall and letting us the audience know that we have watched a retelling of true events that have inspired student uprisings and climate action around the country. We hear a recorded message from real-life climate activist Daze Aghaji who encourages the audience to do what is within their scope of power and influence to tackle the issue of global warming. We are invited to write down one change that we will make to positively affect the planet, on the handmade protest banner.
We are also led through a breathing and grounding exercise to reorient us out of the narrative and into the present. It is this exercise that gives me the most hope about the future of theatre and our globe. It is full of care and self-awareness that this issue is one that can cause anxiety or helplessness. This play was developed in conjunction with a group of 15-25-year-olds who are demanding urgent responses to the climate emergency. They are interested in seeing how collaboration, co-production and community work can help do this.
In my view, if this is the result: quality empathetic theatre, then not only are the kids going to be all right, but maybe our planet will be too.