Anthropecene: The Human Era – GymJame Theatre/Oxford Playhouse

Directed by Gavin Maxwell and William Townsend

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Convenience comes with a cost. The meal-deal you purchase each day whilst avoiding work, the freshly squeezed juice you treat yourself to, and that’s not even to mention the endless coffee cups littering the streets and parks. We’ve become too accustomed to an era of immediate gratification and choice. And despite what others may infer, this age of plenty has come with an impact and awareness of climate change and our hastening of global disasters. The current age of man, the Anthropocene, has overseen some of the largest extinctions and changes to the earth since the last glacial period.

A bottle of wine, a bar of chocolate, some magazines, and a pregnancy test; for Megan, this is her day. Having bid farewell to her partner, Megan’s friend whizzes into the home to share the moment as Megan takes the test to see if their lives will change forever. But there’s something else at play other than the traditional anxieties of parenthood. With the current climate and unfortunate outlook of the world’s climate crisis, is bringing another child into the world the best idea, or even fair?

Drawing on inspirations from Black Mirror’s ‘choose your own adventure’ Bandersnatch, Gavin Maxwell, and William Townsend’s Anthropocene: The Human Era presents itself as an interactive experience where the audience explores both Megan’s thought process and the worries surrounding the future – particularly around the environment. The decisions range from the menial, educational sorts of choosing coffee over juice and even a brief interlude surrounding coffee harvesting and transport to more personal impacts.

Swinging back and forth from studio space and day-to-day life, Anthropocene is shot and structured like a film but contains segments of theatrical performance and dance. Dominance over the current timescale of the earth is everything that humanity and the Anthropocene stand for and is significantly incorporated into GymJam Theatre’s choreography. Elements of closeness and intimacy play a role in the energetic movements as the dancers weave and interlock at varying levels. More impressively, however, is the incorporation of movement into Megan and her partner’s morning routine with fluid embracement as they share toast and get ready: a warming, engrossing moment which adds a sense of the humanity behind the dread.

Townsend and Michael Lynch’s sound design plays a tremendously vital role in securing the ambience and the audience’s interest. Featuring an original composition from Piksel, Anthropocene is a sensory production, and the auditory design reinforces this. Its prominence in pre-recorded videos makes a distinct impact, adding additional elements which keep it just on the edges of feeling too documentary-like.

The choose your own aspect of Anthropocene is a welcome addition that incorporates a personal touch as audiences place their priorities into the character of Helen, but the choices become limited. There’s a clear direction Townsend and Maxwell are pushing for, evident whenever the choices make a re-appearance, almost suggesting a second chance viewing. Understandably so, given the intense demonstration of tight choreography during the dream sequence, and there is an inherent interest.

Concluding that the current era of humanity is our ‘greatest’ is a stretch of the truth but is undeniably our most impactful. And for all of the wrong reasons. Anthropocene: The Human Era confronts the pressing issues of irreversible climate change for future generations by reminding us of contemporary choices. Its physical nature has a striking element of thought and prowess but lends itself too much to gimmickry and cinematic motifs.

Runs here until 10 May 2021 

Review published for The Reviews Hub


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