The beginning of World Problems is both stark and loose. Informal and staged. But effective, in the way that Emma Mary Hall (Writer and performer) brings the audience into the piece:
“You remember being at school…”
“You remember going overseas…”
“You remember finding something new…”
A simple rhetorical flourish that works surprisingly effectively, the whole story unravelling in these shared memories. Somewhat autobiographical, and yet general enough that one could often mistake what’s written instead as an ‘affectation’ of memory. Memories of the kind of moments everyone might have experienced that slowly seem to crystallise around her, before scattering again to others, contradicting themselves and expanding into clearly fictional territory. Hall’s dialogue and delivery appears pleasantly natural, and moments of improvisation seem to push this feeling. But the build from natural to fictional is intentional, and affecting, so that by the end of the piece I found myself more than a little reflective. The moments of a life are in those memories, big and small, personal and world shaking. They are what is lost, denied, if trends continue as they do.
Climate, ecology, and other related problems form the backdrop of the show, a context to which becomes more and more clear so that by the show’s end it does not feel forced. But, the show doesn’t always feel as if it is about these ideas, it feels like its about people. It’s a strong choice of direction to take the show in, to focus more on smaller details than its broader theme of climate disaster, but one that works in its favour, one that lets its eclectic set of influences come to the fore. From the show’s own description these influences include: ‘the German pop-historian Oswald Spengler, the feminist theorist Donna Haraway, and the multi-million-billion-trillion lifeforms living and dying together in our biosphere’. Had the show’s greater theme been more pronounced for its majority, these quirky influences may not have been so evident.
Additionally, the piece’s minimal runtime helps to ensure that it nor the rhetorical technique never overstays its welcome, broken up equally by Hall’s on-stage project and moments of silence that invite focus on the performer. Similarly, the spare, but refined score by SS.Sebastian holds the drama and elevates it when needed. As does the set design, which ties tightly into the actions of Hall (to say anything more would be to share more than I would like about the show’s simple, yet oddly memorable central action), and allow Hall to remain the focus. However, on the night I viewed the performance, there were Audio Visual troubles with the projector that prevented the full effects from taking shape, so unfortunately I can’t comment on what it looks like fully. However, I can say that I did not notice these problems during my show personally, and it was only through a cute quip and later apology did they become known. Lighting had no such worries, reinforcing Hall’s words and keeping the focus on her. Lee’s design dazzles where necessary but otherwise wisely does not draw dramatic attention.
No, the focus is on Hall, who shifts between herself, her project, and the audience as pacing requires, keeping the piece moving and embracing the close proximity she has to those present, without necessarily requiring interaction. If anything, the interaction is served by the workshops and classes that run alongside the shows, in the space around the performances which the audience can sign up to take part in. Talks and practical learning of permaculture and activism, among others, mean that the piece is not alone but one embedded in its time and place, even if the play does not remain tied to the present in its references.
Creative, experimental, ultimately successful, World Problems is a purposeful and reflective piece that manages to do something new, while prompting something bold.