Anthropocene: The Human Era at Oxford Playhouse online
As a term, “anthropocene” (a proposed human-impacted geological epoch) has been highly contested. It is not currently accepted as a geological unit, though the evidence of human activity impacting the planet’s climate and ecosystems (as Anthropocene: The Human Era highlights) is mounting fast. In this mildly interactive piece of theatre, South East theatre ensemble GymJam artfully combine animation, choreography, video and sound in a multi-modal mini masterpiece that powerfully impels the case for proactive responses to the changing global climate.
The play focuses on Megan, who contemplates the future as she waits in the bathroom for the result of a pregnancy test. Though the interactive choices before this moment feel slightly valueless, they become more purposeful when Megan fully immerses herself in a speculative dream about her future family. It is then that the narrative takes a stylised turn as the GymJam ensemble present the dilemma of bringing children into an environmentally insecure world through an exquisite blend of physical choreography and realistic interaction.
The use of stylised methods does not render the narrative too obscure for the audience to follow. Indeed, these methods are more impactful as they are emphatically underscored by riveting sound design, courtesy of director William Townsend and Michael Lynch. It combines a range of musical styles and prescient spoken-word soundbites on environmental issues that educate without pontificating, evoking poignancy at one turn and then turning more sinister soon after.
Astute theatregoers may notice similarities in the physical choreography to other mainstream productions, but the skilled camerawork and editing of Townsend, Lynch and co-director Gavin Maxwell adds an atmospheric dimension by capturing the movement sequences with angles that make the physical skills more captivating than they could be in a live theatre space.
Commendable, too, is the fact that the company educate beyond the show by offering advice and guidance on how viewers can help tackle the growing environmental problem – in fact, engaging with audiences post-show is a feature numerous companies should consider post-Covid to further their impact. Perhaps GymJam are ahead of the game before lockdown ends for the theatre industry.
Overall, Anthropocene: The Human Era heralds GymJam as stars of the future who offer an insight into how theatre after the pandemic can be thought-provoking and inspiring, and incite its audience into action beyond the world of make-believe.
Anthropocene: The Human Era is at Oxford Playhouse from 22nd April until 10th May 2021. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch a trailer for the production here: