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Live / stage review

"Thought-provoking theatre": Resilience at Sheffield Theatres

As Steven Waters' climate-emergency call to arms Resilience arrives in Sheffield, reviewer Paul Szabo describes it as "pleasingly funny, worryingly accurate and frighteningly concerning".

A man and a woman look like they are fighting

Joe Bannister (Will) and Kiran Landa (Sarika) in Resilience.

Marc Brenner

It is often said that life imitates art. At a time when the comedy and tragedy of the theatre of British politics plays out on a world stage and climate change protests are hitting the headlines with tins of soup and tubes of superglue, Steven Waters' climate emergency call to arms Resilience arrives at Sheffield Theatres.

Pulling no punches as both a piece of political satire and a scathing attack on the internal workings of government, the play is set in the fictional Ministry for Resilience, a ministerial committee formed to address climate change and where the priorities of politicians Chris Casson and Tessa Fortnum are at odds. Fortnum is reliant on the opinion of established environmental academic Colin Jenkins, while Casson seeks a fresh approach by a genuinely concerned scientist, Will Paxton, who is fresh from the field.

The gathering momentum of environmental change clashes with political concerns about the impact on the polls and the risk to the minister’s job security. Meanwhile, scientific fact meets scientific possibility head on, with the experts disagreeing with each other as to whether to contain the problem using neutralising methods, or whether to proactively take steps to change the trajectory that they are on.

But a devastating tsunami on the shores of the sunny up-lit lands of Britain simply can’t happen – can it?

Three people stand around a glass table

Geraldine Alexander (Tessa), Paul Ready (Christopher) and Kiran Landa (Sarika) in Resilience.

Marc Brenner

Tensions run rife in this well-crafted and incredibly engaging play. First performed in 2009, the script has been updated by Steven Waters to be slap bang up to the minute and the portrayal of the chaotic and self-serving nature of government could seem like a parody were it not so akin to the current political landscape.

In the Ministry of Resilience, even when positions shift and action is taken, disclaimers are required to be signed before lives can be saved and talk of serving the constituents is often followed by self-serving actions.

The script is wordy but fast paced and reflects the sense of urgency in both the fictional world of the play and the real-world challenges faced by us all. Packed full of acronyms and details, there is good balance between presenting the facts and figures without ever being over complicated or preachy, whilst there is plenty of humour laced within barbed and witty exchanges. There is also an interesting take on the costs of decisions making, not just financially, but in terms of the allocation of resources, action versus inaction, and the social and political costs of getting the big decisions wrong. This is thought-provoking theatre.

Utilising a very simple static set, it's the performances from a small but convincing cast that carry the production. Geraldine Alexander is delightfully aloof as Tessa Fortnum, who can’t resist her own smug moment of satisfaction at her colleague's troubles, whilst Paul Ready’s portrayal of the bumbling, flip-flopping Chris Casson delights the most. “There’s a festive feeling about a crisis,” he says whilst staggering into the ministerial room holding a bottle of cava and some single-use plastic cups. The real-life political analogies are thinly veiled.

Caroline Steinbeis directs with confidence and is effective in capturing both the interplay between the characters and the anticipation of the impending potential crisis, especially during the second act. Using the simplest of things, the piercing sound of a telephone ringing or a few moments of immersion in darkness, Steinbeis draws the audiences into the unfolding drama.

Resilience is presented as part of The Contingency Plan, a double bill of climate-change plays. Viewed either as a standalone play or a companion piece to On The Beach, Resilience is a timely production that is, simultaneously, a pleasingly funny, worryingly accurate and frighteningly concerning piece of theatre.

Learn more

Resilience and On The Beach run at Sheffield Theatres until Saturday 5 November 2022. Details of the theatre’s accessibility policy can be found here.

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