It’s always a joy when a show goes harder than it needs to. Clearly How to Save a Rock has an ultimate purpose; it’s a treatise against fatalism for what at times seems like a hopeless fight for survival, and its well-researched script and cleverly carbon-neutral performance would be plenty to achieve this. But by telling such an inventive story with a strong emotional core, it becomes not just a passionate message about climate change but a touching reminder of the power of humans in adversity through friendship, kindness and love.
The story takes place in the not too distant future of 2026. Three friends receive a letter from the last polar bear, who asks them to meet them at specific coordinates in a remote part of Scotland. Ignoring logic and motivated by hope, they agree to the polar bear’s requests, and through their journey across the Unitied Kingdom, they learn about the state of their country, themselves, and humanity’s endless capacity for hope. The three characters are so distinct and likeable, which gives a real weight to their reflections on their present and future lives. I never thought I would well up during a discussion of wind farms, but the beautiful minimalist music, the sparse lighting and poetic dialogue is able to do just that, and is a testament to how much you can do with so little.
Despite such a real and devastating topic that affects all of us, the show finds a lot of humour in its situation. The show is broken up by cutting to the scientists at East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit, one of our major research facilities for climate change, which was central to the Climategate controversy. In contrast with the emotional, magical realist story of our protagonists, these vignettes are gloriously silly whilst still substantive; the scientists, all real people, are played with dramatic enthusiasm and stereotypical Received Pronunciation, and we are taken through the history of climate change research, a rebuttal to the proponents of Climategate, and an impressive Tom Lehrer-esque song about the different kinds of renewable energy.
The show’s more meta, fourth wall-breaking elements give it the feel of a political statement. How to Save a Rock is completely carbon neutral, and is made possible through solar powered lights, second hand props and an on-stage stationary bike that someone always needs to be pedalling. There is a scene where the characters are at a protest, and without having to ask, the actors subtly incorporate the audience into the scene and get them to participate. And I will not spoil the play’s emotional pay-off, but as it unfolds, the narrative melts away, and what you find yourself participating in is a genuine emotional moment of connection and understanding. What better way to motivate others to save our planet than reveal the beauty and importance of what we have in our lives?
Powerful without being mawkish, How to Save a Rock is a hilarious and touching examination of the importance of protest and determination which feels important enough that as many people as possible should see it.