The Contingency Plan

Published May 8, 2009

Steve Waters presents his terrifying view of the future in The Contingency Plan, a double bill of plays that, rather than choosing to scare the audience with visions of dystopian futures or ideas of monsters hiding in the shadows, centres on the very real and very frightening potential consequences of climate change.

On The Beach, the first of the two plays, is a family drama set in coastal Norfolk to the soundtrack of the roaring sea. Parents Robin (Robin Soans) and Jenny (Susan Brown) are waiting anxiously for the return of their Antarctica based glaciologist son Will (Geoffrey Streatfeild), who is successfully following in the footsteps of Robin’s own scientific legacy. They are already worried that his isolated upbringing might have ill prepared him for the world when he arrives with a feisty, city girl on his arm, a shock that just keeps getting worse.

Not only the first girl Will has ever bought home, Sarika (Stephanie Street) is a senior civil servant for the department of energy and climate change. What would usually be viewed as a worthy profession, in this case causes a devastating shockwave to run through the family home. Memories of Robin’s past and subsequent breakdown are brought to the forefront once more as Will threatens to take his theories of impending catastrophe to parliament with the help of his new girlfriend.

Although the two plays work independently of one another, On The Beach serves to place the theory in an emotional context. Will’s belief that the melting of the icecaps will cause extreme floods to take over Britain’s coastline clearly centres on his need to attempt to save the lives of people like his parents. But Robin, stubborn and afraid to let his son make himself vulnerable to attack as he once did, removes emotion from the problem, instead viewing humans as the ‘world’s infection’ and believing, in a slightly mad scientist way, that nature should be allowed to take its course, whatever the collateral damage may be. As the play draws to a close and Bristol is chillingly announced to be submerged under flood water, Jenny, having once already given up her life for her husband, is left to decide whether she can do it again, and this time in the most final of ways.

Waters’s second play Resilience finds Will, still dressed in a parka and walking boots, an innocent lost in a room filled with bureaucracy as he attempts to persuade politicians Tessa and Chris that extreme measures need to be taken to prevent the catastrophic effects of the unprecedented floods he believes are imminent. Waters this time concentrates on the political side of the problem. The Tory government is back in power and its main concern is to avoid making any embarrassing or expensive mistakes. But as their worst fears are realised, policy and legislation pale in importance as their actions become a matter of life and death.

Both plays feature the same actors, with the exception of David Bark-Jones, who appears only in Resilience as the ignorant and snobbish Chris. The passionate and always slightly out of place Will and the driven and capable Sarika are portrayed consistently in both plays, creating one coherent piece, whereas Soans transforms from the fragile, but aggressive bird-watcher Robin in On The Beach to the eccentric, aggressive government scientist Colin in Resilience. The greatest transformation of all however, is given to Brown, who becomes the hardnosed, political machine Tessa, after playing the considerably softer role of Jenny, where she is almost eaten up with worry for her broken husband.

Both plays never deter from the reality that, although Will’s theory and data is entirely fictional, they are highlighting a very relevant subject matter to society today. To keep the situation as relatable as possible to the audience, jokes about swine flu and MPs second houses are thrown in. But as the floods hit London and the Bush theatre is plunged into complete darkness, all jokes are cast aside as the truly terrifying reality of climate change cannot fail to hit home.

CM