Edinburgh Fringe 2019
The ocean contains the switch of life. Not land, not the atmosphere. The ocean. And that switch can be turned off.
The Theatre Centre presents Sea Sick, Alanna Mitchell’s critically acclaimed production about climate change, and the state of the global ocean, which has toured Canada and the world.
Experience this powerful story in which Mitchell uses science and delicate wit to tell us about her journey to the bottom of the ocean, the demons she discovered there, and her hope for the future.
I saw a talk by Harrison Ford recently where he couldn’t remember the next part of his speech when he was talking about the Amazon burning. Then with a wry smile (he is the master of them), said;
“In the movies we get to do it again”.
I wish it was like the movies.
I’ll be honest, it’s taken a bit of resistance to sit down and write this review. It’s now 8 months late.
I asked my editor (Mr Fringereview) if I could just write;
“Just go and see it, please”.
But he said no. So I am dragging myself to write this. Not because it’s a bad show, far from it, it’s been the most real and important things I think I have ever seen.
It’s truly devastating.
Alanna Mitchell is a Journalist, not a performer. And stumbled upon the biggest story of her career. And then went to bed for a month in a deep depression. And then realised she needed to share this story urgently.
A one woman show, carried delicately by Alanna herself – a self confessed uneasy first timer to the stage – takes us through her journey of discovery. She tells us that she grew up on desert lands and adored her homeland where she lived with her parents, she was never interested in the Ocean. An accidental diversion led her down the path to spend time with ocean scientists who showed her things she never dreamed were possible in her lifetime.
Sea Sick is a gentle and loving show. It doesn’t throttle us with the truth, but still, the room grows more heavy in attentive silence as the simple facts are carefully laid out with calm precision.
A moment that will always stay with me was the image of her walking along a sandy beach, with one of the most intelligent and knowledgeable scientists in the world. As she spluttered out her horror to him at what she had uncovered throughout her 3 years of research with the ocean scientists, the biggest story of humankind, she hoped for some soothing reassurance from him, some alternative scientific data that promised a more rosy future for us all. He was quiet and thoughtful, and then replied to her, that it actually wasn’t as bad as she thought. She started to sigh in hopeful relief. But then he spoke calmly and told her something that changed her forever;
It’s all much, much worse than she could imagine.
The moment of visceral horror for me, was when she illustrated the three critical issues the Ocean is experiencing right now.
The increasing acidity – she dropped a piece of chalk in a glass of vinegar to show what this meant for sea life and coral (if you want a stronger image of this at home please try it).
The oxygen levels dropping beyond anything ever expected, and this means there are patches of zero oxygen, “death zones”, where literally nothing can live.
The temperature steadily and quickly increasing; Mediterranean sea life and creatures are heading north because it is no longer habitable, thousands and thousands of species of sea life and vegetation are dying off, EVERY day.
The Ocean is acidic…
Increasing in temperature…
She is sour,
Alanna tells us that the Ocean is close to a tipping point of a magnitude never anticipated and so horrific that still many scientists simply don’t accept it.
The Ocean is dying.
It feels like we have already all jumped off the cliff and the ground is hurtling towards us. There’s no going back now.
I have grown up with the anxiety of climate change. I remember lying in my bed at night with a racing heart, filled with the anguish of a geeky earnest 9 year old who read avidly and watched Blue Peter every day after school. I remember that drinks can campaign (do you remember that?) and felt that united strength of us all doing something together. I remember big conversations about the Ozone layer, about the hole in the Ozone. I threw away my body spray in horror. I worried about the emissions from our Fridge. It felt so important. It felt like we would save the world together. How little I knew then, and how equally grateful but also regretful I am that it wasn’t really in society’s consciousness. No one really had a sense of the extremity and the severity of where we were headed. I remember hours in my garden and in the park near our house, handling caterpillars, staring at spiders and ladybugs, making forts for them, talking to the trees ( I was a bit of a lonely dreamy child), smelling the flowers and hiding under the Rhodedenrums and feeling deep pain at the way humans were treating nature. As an adult I felt that urgency again when watching an Inconvenient Truth. Fear gripped me, I redoubled my efforts to recycle more and not waste water and reduce dairy and meat consumption and walk or cycle or take the bus more. But life takes over, personal challenges always feel more urgent than the macro issues. It’s inevitable that we get absorbed by our own personal survivals of challenging lives. I carried an uneasy guilt that I simply wasn’t doing enough, but it was taking all my energy to just survive daily life.
It feels odd that now there has been such a tipping point that so many people are aware of it now, and that’s mostly because we are seeing the impact every day. The veil has been lifted from many of our eyes. But not enough.
I saw Greta Gunburg on an USA chat show (she had just arrived safe and sound on American soil after travelling 2 weeks by boat in a bid to model reducing carbon emissions). The presenter asked her what felt different about being over there and talking to people about climate change. From the mouths of babes came the profound insight that;
“Over here (in the US), Climate Change seems to be a thing that you believe in or don’t. Whereas where I am from, in Sweden, it’s just fact.”
And that is the uncomfortable, very inconvenient, and highly dangerous truth.
Alanna Mitchell replies to our unspoken question at the end of the show; what shall we do then?
And her answer?
I felt our collective jaw drop. That’s it?!
I thought she would say we need to start a revolution! We need to join the rebellion! We need to overturn the oil companies! Throw away our car keys! Live off grid, in Earth ships! Give up our mediocre jobs, come together and make clean technology and live like cave men. I thought she was going to tell us to do something extreme, for this is an extreme situation.
Our home is on fire.
And then I sat back and I got it.
It’s already too late.
Those of us who have been aware of this devastating issue for many years have already gone through the stages of grief; denial, anger, depression. It’s already too late. It would take a miracle to change this. And when I say miracle, I mean the impossible. Humans would need a high speed internal revolution. It’s our behaviours, our desires, our attitudes that need urgent examination over everything else. And change is hard. It’s really fucking hard. If giving up smoking is hard. If starting a new healthy eating and exercise routine is hard. If giving up coffee, or learning a new skill is hard. Think about how hard it is to shatter, to dismantle, to peel away everything that makes us feel safe in this precarious world, in this surreal and unbelievable experience of being a human, of being seeing eyes in side a shell made of soft skin and blood that bleeds. We haven’t developed enough as a species. We are still stuck in old patterns of greed and power and fear and corruption. Primal patterns. We might be civilised, we may have self consciousness. But we are primal beasts, when it really comes to it. I only realised that when my son was born. When post operation, where my abdomen had been cut and ripped open and speedily sewn together during a busy, but everyday shift for the staff there, I staggered along the corridor 2 days afterwards, clutching my paradoxically numb and painful belly that felt separate and jelly like and otherworldly as if no longer attached to my body. They had told me they would just pop out with my baby for a “quick simple jaundice test”. Over half an hour had passed and he hadn’t been brought back and although I had only known him for 2 days, although he had barely opened his eyes, I knew him. I knew him deep in my bones and as my unease built and was overriding my ‘rational civilised’ brain, I heaved myself off the hospital bed and staggered – disoriented – down the corridor. I could hear HIS cry. I didn’t know where I was going, the ward was unfamiliar, noisy and strange. But I knew his cry. I found him, in a small room, a Paediatrician looked over his shoulder at me in irritation, he had his little gloved fingers in my son’s mouth, trying to keep him quiet while he drew reluctant blood from his new baby’s soft untarnished heel. And the rage that exploded in me frightened me and I was in awe at the feelings that’s rose up and I was a Mama Lioness and in that moment I knew I had potential in me to kill for my baby.
Thankfully I didn’t. Thankfully I would never.
I smiled instead in that polite kind of rage, reached over and grabbed my baby, drawing him close to me.
Protectively. Teeth snarling politely under tight lipped Britishness.
It’s there, beneath us all. We want to keep ourselves and our tribe safe. Anyone else is ‘Other’. It doesn’t matter how many BA (Hons) degrees we have, or how many meditation courses we have done, or how many Vegan meals we have made or how many cute or Zen memes we have posted on social media.
Under it all, we are all snarling beasts, when under threat.
People at the top aren’t going to change suddenly. And the changes that need to happen are colossal. The little people can’t do it on their own. We need the policies in place. We need organisational action.
But we also have to move to forgiveness, and fast. Because already I see it in myself. I internally tut at someone gathering up a pile of ready meals even though I did the same last week exhausted after a long shift. I tut at people taking flights and yet I know I have done my share and will likely again, if I am lucky to travel. I feel an anger at humanity, at the damage we have caused, at our selfishness. I am angry at myself. I have horror at my part in it. But I have to forgive myself too.
She said she could feel the guilt of having flown over from Canada to do this show. Think of the carbon emissions! But we have to forgive. It’s the most important thing we need to do right now, because it is only from that place that possibility and hope can grow. Forgiveness is the nourishment we need. Nothing can grow in accusation and anger and regret. We need to move on, and focus on the future that we want.
And we have to do that knowing it may not be enough. On cynical days, grey days, I tell myself it will never be enough, our days on Earth are numbered and we just need to face it. But we have to try. And that trying, has to be done in love, not hate.
Never before in human history has the basic need for compassion and kindness and forgiveness been so vital.
As vital as clean air.
Wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing if this was the moment in history that changed the world.
That this was that scary time when humanity almost blew it, that we hurtled towards our extinction with arrogance and greed but at the very last moment we pulled up.