Between Two Waves by Ian Meadows
Herald Theatre until 15 August
A few good men are what we need. And a few good men (and women) are what we get in this impressive production of Between Two Waves, which has already received critical acclaim in Australia. This New Zealand version is a passion project for producer Leanne Frisbie, who was so moved by the original production that she immediately bought the New Zealand rights, and for director Peter Feeney, who has returned to the theatre after a ten-year hiatus. This week, Barack Obama announced a push to tackle climate change: this play is a timely reminder of the challenges we face.
Emmett Skilton (Almighty Johnsons) plays Daniel, a gauche clinically anxious climatologist, and Shara Connolly (Go Girls), Fiona, a photographer, made vulnerable thanks to a back catalogue of awful boyfriends and her desperate longing for a child. The play opens with Daniel sitting alone in his flat. An insurance assessor (Frisbie) arrives to assess the damage amidst one of the worst periods of storms New Zealand has ever seen. As the weather gets worse, she finds herself trapped. Meanwhile, the story of the previous year unfolds in flashback. Daniel, who is far more comfortable doing research, was pushed to accept a role inside government by his old boss (Feeney) in the hope he may have more influence over climate policy, but politics are not Daniel’s strength...
Theatre that tackles climate change often falls into two traps – to be too didactic, and use the stage as a means to spread the word, or to let the environmental issues be a mere setting for what is the main drama between the characters. Between Two Waves doesn’t entirely escape either trap. Ian Meadows is an excellent writer of dialogue so it jars when Daniel explains the tipping point and the women don’t seem to understand. It seems to suggest that the problem with the climate change crisis is a deficit of knowledge, or confusion, which I would challenge. Another scene where Daniel goes head to head with a fossil-fuel funded think tank ‘expert’ on TV is funny (the ticker tape effect at the bottom of the screen full of Auckland non-news is hilarious), but also slightly jarring for the same reasons. On the whole, though, Daniel’s anxiety forces him and us to emotionally engage with the consequences of climate change in a way that most of us usually subconsciously evade.
Much of the play is about Fiona and Daniel’s relationship, but these characters are well drawn and the rift between them is completely based on how differently they cope with uncertainty and risk. As she nears thirty, her body clock becomes almost audible; for him the thought of bringing a child into a world where climate chaos is inevitable is morally impossible. The actors bring such vulnerability and tenderness to their roles that they both have our complete sympathy and full attention throughout. A moving, bleakly funny, and thought-provoking play.