Feminism, environment, abortions: Coast to Coast Theatre Company’s Play Before Birth couldn’t tick many more boxes on the ‘woke’ list if it tried. A production that discusses how environmental issues affect women, honing in on the environmental ethics of having children in an increasingly unsustainable world, Play Before Birth’s message combines issues that nobody’s thought to combine before. For that, it is to be commended.
Unfortunately, that message is delivered in a fairly simple play with characters that seem to be aggressive stereotypes of the identities they’re trying to portray and go completely against the statement the play is trying to make. The worst example of this is Moira (Ellie Martland), a researcher in sustainability who, in her first scene, proudly announces to the audience she has been surgically sterilised for the sake of the planet – having a child adds 9441 metric tonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere, after all. And yet by the end of the play, she has been reduced to a screechy social justice warrior, verbally attacking Klara (Rachel Nicholson), a pregnant 20-something and her brother’s girlfriend, for keeping her baby despite the state of the world. Her berating the main character makes it hard for the audience to side with her, or even care to listen to the true facts she gives about the unsustainable habits of human beings – the exact opposite effect you want to have in a play about environmental issues.
However, despite somewhat questionable writing, there are some touching moments. Short interludes where the four-woman cast sing a capella in a round are lovely. Their voices mingle in harmony to simple lyrics about saving the planet, signifying the end of important or poignant scenes. The use of music to stir emotion, so often overlooked in new writing, is extremely effective in this context.
In all, Play Before Birth’s tackles an extremely important topic in women’s politics, touching not only on how governments control women’s bodies, but what they can and might do in the face of the climate crisis, and the extremely obvious yet unanticipated idea that environmental issues affect men and women differently. Despite quite basic writing, it is this message of the play that elevates it above much other student theatres. A creative message will go a long way, but to really get the point across, Coast to Coast will need to think up more compelling characters.
Play Before Birth is on at Greenside – Mint Studio
At 18:30 until 24th August
Image: Molly Bernardin