Review: The Heretic ~ theatre notes

Friday, May 18, 2012

Review: The Heretic

Because Richard Bean's play The Heretic is about climate change, it attracted the notice of hardline climate change denier Andrew Bolt in the weeks running up to its opening. There was a minor flurry of polemic that at once excoriated the "arts community" for its leftie lockstep, and on the other jubilated that at last a climate change denier was being granted her proper prominence. (Granted by whom? That very same "arts community" - apparently an identikit bunch who dress in black, live in Brunswick and plot the downfall of the RSL.) The logical absurdity of this sums up Bolt's usual modus operandi, and is hardly worth addressing. But I assume, operating on the basis that "no publicity is bad publicity", that this kind of controversy is why The Heretic was programmed. I can't think of any other reason.

Andrew McFarlane and Noni Hazlehurst in The Heretic. Photo: Jeff Busby

It's hard not feel a kind of colonial resentment that so many resources - an excellent cast and design team, a main stage budget, hours of work and attention - have been thrown at a British play of such unrelenting mediocrity. Bean's play is given a much better production than it deserves. If we're going to support mediocrity, let's at least keep it local: we have budding Williamsons aplenty here, with the added bonus that they're at least addressing regional specifics. But let me not get carried away with reactionary nationalism, a hat that doesn't really suit my complexion.

The Heretic, as is known to anybody who has followed the jejune controversy, concerns Dr Diane Cassell (Noni Hazlehurst), a climate scientist at the University of York who specialises in measuring sea levels. She has written a paper which questions the consensus that sea levels are rising and which, according to everyone around her, means that she is about to topple the whole edifice of scientific consensus around climate change. This alarms her boss and former lover, Professor Kevin Maloney (Andrew McFarlane), who is trying to swing a lucrative sponsorship for his Earth Science department and believes that publication of the paper will queer his pitch. She also starts receiving death threats from an extremist environmental group called the Sacred Earth Militia.

Meanwhile, she is tutoring a young greenie, Ben Shotter (Shaun Goss), teaching him that science isn't about belief, but sceptical investigation. Duh. She has a vexed relationship with a home tutored, anorexic daughter, the spiky Phoebe (Anna Samson), who is, inevitably, a member of Greenpeace. That takes care of Generation Y, who are portrayed as bonkers idealists obsessed with political correctness. Phoebe's favourite term of abuse is "fascist!", and Ben, who refuses to travel in a petrol-fuelled car, has a panic attack because his farts are swelling the methane level of greenhouse gases. The plot is further complicated by a human resources manager, Catherine Tickell (Katy Warner) and a sinister ex-army security guy, Geoff Tordoff (Lyall Brooks).

The result is like nothing so much as watching one of those BBC family comedies starring Zoƫ Wanamaker that clutter up our tv screens, with relationships that strain credulity but which reflect given wisdoms about how people are supposed to behave. Aside from Diane, who is clearly the hero of this work, all the characters are exaggerated cliches, mouthpieces for rolling wisecracks and the odd piece of situation comedy (Andrew McFarlane, in fact, does some marvellous drunk acting, which counts among the highlights). Meanwhile, the plot rolls on, referencing every discredited wisdom in the climate deniers' arsenal - dodgy sea level measurements in the Maldives, the Climategate scandal, the mistaken IPCC claim that the Himalayan glaciers are melting - with nary a glimpse of counter-argument.

In the world of Bean's play, every real-life circumstance is drawn through the mirror and reflected backwards. In the real world, for example, it's the scientists who warn about climate change who get death threats. And it's the denialists who refuse to be sceptical about their beliefs, ignoring the vast volumes of heavily referenced data that supports its reality in favour of a few cherry-picked typos and inconsistencies. But these reversals only fit with the deeper conservatism of the whole enterprise: The Heretic is bourgeois theatre par excellence, bathing us in a tepid glow of pseudo-humanist warmth. Do we really need to think? The answer is, only so far as it doesn't disturb any comfortable assumptions.

There's a potential drama in here about the perils of non-conformity and, in particular, the suffocating entanglements of bureaucracy. Bean is aware of this - at one point, he references Galileo, which makes you think of what Brecht did with his heretic. But the promise of any real engagement, dramatic or intellectual, splutters out into farce, for the want of any real argument or compelling dramatic structure. There's so much gumph being shoved down our throats that parts of the play are a glorified lecture. More tellingly, Dr Diane Cassell is so busy knocking over straw men with her little finger that there's absolutely no conflict: on the one side, we have a heroic sceptic; on the other, we have a bunch of deluded greenies and corrupt academics busy falsifying their data.

Given this, it's a tribute to the cast that they get as much as they do out of this play. Matt Scholten's production, in his debut for the MTC, gives the action some legs: there's a lot of comic stage business, and the cartoonish portraits of the minor characters are drawn with a sharp pen that rescues some moments of humanity. Hazlehurst, who is on stage for almost the entire performance, gives an authoritative performance of a complicated woman, passionate and caustic, and her scenes with McFarlane are particularly enjoyable.

The show is directed swiftly and with detail, making the least of the text's digressionary longueurs, and comes with an immersive soundscape from Jethro Woodward that deserves a much better occasion. If nothing else, The Heretic brings to the surface the noxious ideology that underlies so much "topical" conservative theatre. And I have a horrible feeling that it will do very well. After all, it's nice to be reassured that there's really nothing to worry about.

The Heretic, by Richard Bean, directed by Matt Scholten. Set design by Shaun Gurton, costumes by Esther Marie Hayes, lighting by Lisa Mibus, composition and sound by Jethro Woodward. With Noni Hazlehurst, Anna Samson, Shaun Goss, Lyall Brooks, Andrew McFarlane and Katy Warner. Sumner Theatre, Melbourne Theatre Company, until June 23.

72 comments:

Chris Boyd said...

There's a good piece on the Bizarro World inversions of fact by Clive Hamilton, here.

Richard Pettifer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alison Croggon said...

Hi Richard - I'm interested to know what the production could possibly have done to make this play a more compelling argument. Short of changing the text, that is. I'm open to argument...

Thanks for that link, Chris. I love Hamilton's description of the MTC as an "avant-garde theatre company". !!!

Alison Croggon said...

Oh. The commenter removed his comment, for those readers puzzled by my apparently speaking to thin air.

Richard Pettifer said...

Alison I feel like you've gone after some low-hanging fruit here. Bean knows his play is for the masses, he knows its illustrative and not investigative. I think the measure of a play like this is whether it can shift the zeitgeist, or whether it just appropriates the subject for its own purposes. As Denis Kelly puts it in his Theatertreffen address, "Am I serving the subject, or is the subject serving me?" (with the second option being a failure)

I agree that this is shifty writing. But I think "it's a tribute to the cast that they get as much as they do out of this play" you give too much credit to the production team - surely the only reasonable justification for putting on this play is to spark a firestorm of political debate that hopefully agitates some Australians out of there horrible horrible apathy, and from this angle I think the production is a failure not because of its low-quality writing but for its safe choices, which hamstring any potential the play has for causing actual debate. The only thing slightly controversial about it was that apparently Audi sponsored opening night, with the irony seemingly either lost or supressed by the marketing team at MTC.

It's a bizarre piece of writing though, I'll agree. It seems to open up a can of worms in the first act and then we get... a sort of odd BBC crime drama where everyone is looking at the computer and talking about whether the data is correct or not.

Cameron Woodhead said...

"But the promise of any real engagement, dramatic or intellectual, splutters out into farce, for the want of any real argument or compelling dramatic structure."

Um... It is farce, not a great one, but a skilled, commercial farce of some vigor, although from this production, you'd have to say Scholten doesn't seem to realise it. Nor is he a natural director of farces. I wonder why they gave him this play. I've very much admired Scholten's direction of Daniel Keene's work (which I'd have to say was influencing your judgement here) but this seems to me a category mistake.

And that piece by Clive Hamilton is ridiculous, Chris. Do you really think audiences are so stupid they'll take what they see in the theatre as "fact"? Or that the "facts" Hamilton presents are the whole story?

So far as there's a "real argument", Alison, how about the way that Diane, who sees herself as a devotee of empiricism and "objective" science, increasingly succumbs to her own prejudices as a result of the terribly way she's treated by those with whom she does not agree?

That's what this play is really about. Polarisation makes monsters of us all. Facts never "speak for themselves". It is we who speak, we who interpet them, we who invest them with meaning - and that process is impossible without emotion intruding, on every side. We should be mindful of that.

Richard Pettifer said...

I think this depends on how the director positions themselves in relation to the text. A more oppositional stance was called for. I don't think anyone was agressive enough with it. It felt to me like there was much more room to interrogate the positions of the characters or the writer, to cast some doubt over their authenticity or integrity.

It's a curly one for both director and the MTC because MTC's audience are not going to want to see that, as to interrogate the characters or the writer is sort of attacking MTC's audience in this case, and Matt is a first time director there. So the whole situation is a bit precarious.

All the same, I think without this kind of bravery this particular production suffers... why stage it?

Alison Croggon said...

Hi Cameron - A skilled farce? I don't think so. I read Bean's self description as a version of Joe Orton after I wrote this review, and was amazed at the hubris. I'd say it's a technically proficient situation comedy, as seen on tv. In circumstances where I can see good work put in by a production team, I'm loath to blame them for a play's shortcomings. And that's a consistent attitude in my reviewing, whatever "influence" you think is happening here. A bad production of this play would have been deeply painful.

I'd agree with your other argument, if the play itself didn't so sedulously take all its lines from the climate change denial songbook. I didn't need Clive Hamilton to tell me that. If there was an actual dialectic going on - if there were something at stake for Diane, something to argue against, rather than the bowdlerised cliches we get here - it might have made an interesting drama.

Cameron Woodhead said...

Bean's hummus, er, hubris is deeply unattractive. Play/production attribution in reviewing is reasonably fraught, don't you find? Sometimes it's obvious, but look - I doubt this play would have won the London Critics Cirle award without being pretty good. Not that that's a good reason for thinking so oneself.

The "consistent line" in your reviews seems to be blaming the writing. You blame it so often. You are a writer, you're married to a playwright. Is there a connection? If so, what's the nature of it? That's for you to ponder, though the potential for unconscious bias should be apparent. After all, the one thing you'd be least likely to need in any prospective collaboration is ... a writer.

Alison Croggon said...

Hi Cameron - I'm quite happy to own whatever biases - which basically add up to my critical sensibility, for good or ill - inform my reviews. Being a writer means (a) (as some of my critics have been wont to point out) that I think that writing matters deeply in the theatre, since in most productions, and especially in productions of plays, it is the ground from which the rest of production builds; and (b) that I am much more likely to take issue with aspects I perceive as flaws, as writing is an artform I'm familiar with as a practitioner. Although, despite the Age referring to me on several occasions as a playwright, I am certainly not one of those. Since I first started reviewing, waaay before I was married to playwrights of any description, I've found it frustrating to watch good artists working hard to make ordinary scripts enjoyable to watch.

Did you think the production didn't serve the play? It passed painlessly enough, I thought.

Alison Croggon said...

Oh, Richard: missed you there. Surely the reason to put this play is the hope that it will sell a lot of tickets. It may well do just that.

Richard Pettifer said...

Surely it is not enought to just sell tickets? I ask knowing it's not fashionable to ask this question anymore, and that it probably never was in Oz.

Heretic didn't win Critics Circle award... won much less prestigious Evening Standard award. One Man Two Guvners won Critics Circle.

Cameron Woodhead said...

You're quite right Richard. My mistake.

I'm not saying unconscious bias is all bad Alison, and everything you say about being a writer informing your practice is true. I've mentioned the potential downside of the bias and how that might operate: but again that's for you to think about, not me to judge.

I had a reasonable time, but no the production didn't serve Bean's farce well. Bad pacing (esp. the lugubrious silences and scene breaks) and a certain overearnestness and lack of nuance in the performances. Would that the MTC had given the play to a director with a real affinity for farce: Maria Aitken, say, or Gary Abrahams. Uniting directors with plays suited to their abilities isn't the MTC's strong point, however.

As for the "something at stake", the evidence for anthropogenic climate change is now overwhelming, but that doesn't mean a lot of people don't subscribe to the idea through unthinking conformity. Nor that suspect claims haven't been made by the environmental lobby. Nor that academics haven't cut their cloth to funding arrangements. Etc, etc.

Nothing shits me more than those who believe the right thing for the wrong reason. Apart from anything else, they give the Andrew Bolts of this world something to attack. Surely you can see that.

Richard Pettifer said...

But given the play is about climate change, surely it makes sense to actually address climate change? Otherwise you're just creating a play "about" something, and it will never be honest.

We are always making divisions between professionalism/technique and the themes of the play as if they are different things, as if theatre exists in some kind of magic bubble where as long as the lighting, sound, acting, writing and direction are proficient enough then the play will be a corker. But theatre is both technique and real-world pragmatics, they intersect in the same space. It is not about being better at farce it is just about understanding the material and what it's doing, or trying to do, which is an endless and impossible search. When done well, it's great to witness.

Making divisions between the theme of climate change and play's technique (i.e the 'what' and the 'how') is dangerous because it kills off any real-world effect the play might have, therefore I ask again, why stage the play, except, as you point out Alison, to sell tickets, which I don't accept as a valid reason.

Alison Croggon said...

Cameron, I've never pretended to respond from anywhere except my own sensibility, as part of this small and rather interesting community that we know and love in Melbourne. For my part, I don't see any profit in lying about my opinion about anyone's work, least of all the work of people whom I know and like. How could that be useful to them? How could that not be insulting? Also, more pettily, I have my pride.

"Even" me? I have as little patience with the blindly conventional as you. My major argument with this play is dramaturgical: it might have had some peril if it weren't so blindly one-sided. More generally, I can admire the work of those with whom I profoundly disagree. Some of my favourite artists hold sadly loathsome opinions, which makes engaging with that admiration a complex and exciting business.

But don't get me wrong: I don't resent your questions. They need to be asked, and I have no desire to be anything but transparent. I just worry that it means I end up talking far too much about me. No personal objection to that, of course: I can talk about me all day. But it can get dull for everyone else.

Cameron Woodhead said...

Alison, I'm not accusing you of "lying", or impugning your integrity. Unconscious bias doesn't work that way. And I didn't say "even" you! That would have been condescending.

I don't think the play is quite so one-sided as you're suggesting: as Diane has her student demonstrate, manipulation of statistics cuts both ways.

Most of the lines Clive Hamilton quotes come from the second act, where Diane's biases really come to the fore. I've explained my reading of that already, and what it says about polarisation. I don't read Diane as "heroic", as you seem to, though I agree the computer hacking stuff is too neat by half (though not, perhaps, for a commercial farce).

Alison Croggon said...

Yes, maybe "heroic" is too strong a word, although we are certainly invited to admire Diane in a way we are not invited to admire the other characters. Emotionally speaking, the play made no sense to me at all. Maybe especially the mother-daughter scenario, which was too pat for words, or even for a commercial comedy. Give me Noises Off any day. Look forward to your take on it.

Anonymous said...

The pseudo skeptical project has been enormously effective. Raise as much doubt as possible, regardless of whether the doubt is based on distortion, lies, plagiarism, incompetence or even typographical error. And then sit back and watch how the ensuing confusion derails any attempt at crafting a credible energy policy to meet the challenge of global warming. 

Why the MTC feels it needs to participate in this debauchment of science and public policy by giving a free reign to the pseudo skeptic playbook is beyond me. I could make a few guesses along the lines of intellectual incapacity born of ignorance or perhaps  an oversensitivity to being thought too lefty or perhaps the dears really think they are contributing something to a 'debate'.  My personal hope is that its just an act of 'bums on seats cynicism' as any of the other three would be too depressing.

Marco Chiappi

tiger said...

Okay Folks, you need to understand something and understand it now and remember it forthwith. The Melbourne Theatre Company are a profit making enterprise and an arm of the University of Melbourne. They are therefore absolutely imperilled by not making money. They are not a house of art, they are a house that uses art to make money. Forget any other assumption or ideal you may have to their 'duty' or 'reasons' and understand that fact alone. They exist purely as a profit motive.

They are in fact like any other commercial producer, just one that considers itself the flagship commercial producer of Melbourne.

In terms of any debate as to the credibility of anthropogenic climate change, this was raised succinctly in the final part of the recent ABC documentary "I can change your mind". This was where deniers of the science raise things that leave those who may have suitable responses struggling to look at what they are ambushed with. By the time they have assessed it, the argument has moved on. Competing arguments that on the face of things seem credible, but once explored are proven to be lacklustre. This is largely - the doco suggests - about the media offering a fair and balanced argument representing both sides of the 'debate'. In reality, a fair and balanced media would long ago have stopped giving so much weight to fools and imbeciles that use junk science to defend some sort of disagreement.

The idea that Audi might sponsor opening night is absolutely fine and reasonable. From a targeted audience perspective for the company it is spot on. For the MTC it raises cash money. In terms of Audi's enviro credentials, it is the luxury car makers that truly do push the envelope in terms of car design and the environment. The way to bring about any meaningful change long term is for our use of scarce resources and the impact they have on our world, and without imposing too much of a burden on a society otherwise unable to do without certain things (like cars).

In summary: the MTC are a commercial entity, they are the arm of an enormous corporate enterprise, this enterprise (the University of Melbourne) - along with the entire tertiary sector - has lost an enormous amount of government funding since 'The Howard Years'. It was these years where other 'public' institutions lost vast resourcing - including the CSIRO - and any they received tied with creating markets for their products. This is evidenced by the way university's are producing graduates for the workplace, rather than students of anything, purely for the sake of the learning.

And yes, it was also during these years that the idea of 'carbon capture and storage' was championed over renewable energy options, and where we as a nation frittered away the proceeds from the 'first mining boom', and where the public debt of Australia was reduced but the private debt of each Australian ballooned to become the largest of any people on the planet. In addition, the cost of housing skyrocketed to become grossly unaffordable and the price of most things increased by a minimum 10% with the introduction of the GST. Other non economic things happened in that time that demeaned us all as a nation, including the idea that people who may or may not be fleeing some other place to arrive here 'illegally' became for perhaps the first time in this country's history a political vote winner. The word 'Cronulla' became synonymous with the relaxed and comfortable Australia that we were promised.

Which is just what happens when you have a sedentary public fed lies and mistruths and even greater lies and mistruths by white people, who go to the theatre. And that is what the MTC is. A part of the problem or part of the solution. Like Audi. Like democracy that elected those 'Howard Years' - despite the facts that are significantly against such despicable men. And prove any argument against ACC foolish and short sighted.

Thank you, and good night.

Mick Hewett said...

I thought the reason to see a play was to enjoy it. If you don't like what it's about, why see it? I mean it was widely reported that the hero is a person who disagrees with AGW. It seems most of the comments here are more about being offended because someone had the audacity to put on a production that gives an alternate view. If it was pro AGW you'd probably be applauding it but because most of the commentators here seem to be of the opinion that AGW is true, there is a lot of dummy spitting. Grow up people.

To judge if it is a good production, leave your personal biases at the door and comment on it without prejudice. I would have thought that if it is a good story and done well it would deserve commendation.

Unknown said...

"In reality, a fair and balanced media would long ago have stopped giving so much weight to fools and imbeciles that use junk science to defend some sort of disagreement."

My dear fellow, enlightenment does not dawn whilst a blanket of intolerance is woven.

Alison Croggon said...

I see the blog has been busy overnight. Hi Marco, and Unknown. Quite. Though I'm hoping this thread doesn't degenerate into a fight about AGW.

@ tiger: Briefly: I have nothing against the MTC making money. I understand, and have written about, the forces that mean it must. But you are wrong to say that the MTC is a "commercial entity", even if parts of the organisation might see itself as one. It is also funded as a Major Performing Arts Organisation, and as the biggest theatre company in the country has a responsibility towards the wider culture and towards the public. Putting on a play that is at once a piece of climate denial propaganda and a mediocre work of writing does neither, although it may help the coffers. I agree with your analysis, but a major cultural entity like the MTC actually does have duties.

@ Mick Hewett: You might have noticed that this is a blog of theatre criticism.

And parenthetically to Cameron: Your comment that I always "blame the writer" is nagging me. Really? What about those many reviews in which I have been critical about what a bad production has done to a fine play?

Mick Hewett said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alison Croggon said...

Hi Mick - in this case, I'd say the one-sidedness of the play does affect its quality, or is at least of a piece with it. It's certainly a lazy intellectual argument, reaching for the obvious provocation. I haven't even mentioned the very British classism, part of the same ideology - that monologue about sink estates, for instance - so hilarious to laugh at disadvantaged subhumans... "Only joking," I guess. "It's really about how boring the middle classes are." No. Don't buy it.

Does this matter if it's only intended to be a light comedy? (Is it intended to be a light comedy?) Well, only if you think things don't mean anything. More to the point, Richard Bean might have written it in Britain, where there has been quite a lot of theatre about climate change, but this is in fact the first work I've seen that directly engages with the issue. Commenters are welcome to put me right if they can think of other works that reference climate change. I can't help wondering why this play: I'm told Bean has written much better works. Oh, maybe When The Rain Stops Falling, but then it was tangential: and even if it was, as some like to say, PC, I also didn't enjoy that.

Anonymous said...

Alison I understand the desire not to see your blog become another front on which the climate wars are fought. However the issue isn't a climate issue but an ethical one.  I can't think off hand of another example  in which such an egregious misrepresentation of objective truth in the service of an ideological project would be tolerated. 

Whether the play is well written or badly written, well produced or badly realised  are second order considerations. However I will button my lip from now on as I am not so naive or unfair to think that posts on this blog can resolve an issue that the objective weight of scientific evidence has failed to effect. 

I wished only to register my disgust that the MTC saw fit to prostitute itself to a project whose sole aim is to both discredit and obscure scientific fact in order to derail any hope of a sane policy debate.

Here endeth the pompous man.

Marco

Mick Hewett said...

One sided? Fair point but in reality, that happens quite often, in the media especially. I have seen climate change written into televison shows, movies, even kids shows for example, but of course there is not effort to put alternate views. Sometimes it has to go the other way too whether serious or with a touch of comedy so I don't think it should surprise people that occassionally a more sceptical view is presented. Maybe it's a shock because it is never really done here in Australia. I think it's refreshing to have someone game enough to put on a production such as this. I feel that especially in the media it has been very one sided so I welcome this being done. As you said, maybe in Britain there have been more such plays.

Incidentally I am agnostic when it comes to AGW. I have seen countless 'prophesies' made on what will happen only to see them remain unfulfilled and the opposite happening or nothing happening. Sometimes scientists really shoot themselves in the foot. Also I deleted my previous comment, I got a bit carried away and wasn't satisfied with the way I wrote. When I enjoy something such as music, some opera and the ways that english is used to communicate, sometimes I go overboard a bit.

Have enjoyed your comments.

Richard Pettifer said...

Hi Tiger I think MTC shoots a bit higher than just commercialism. Like Alison I refuse to accept that profit is the sole motivator.

Can you point me in the direction on some reading about Audi's environmental work? I'd like to do some reading on this. Certainly news to me.

The rest of the stuff you say makes sense coming from a particular political perspective of course.

@Mick you can't remove the politics from the production on this one. The writer is intending to touch this tender spot, so it doesn't make sense to ignore that. Besides, see earlier argument about the removal of technique from theme - a polished production just allows audience to escape from engaging the actual issue.

Alison I couldn't agree more, there is an absolute gap in artists actually confronting the impossibile and paramount scope of Climate Change, especially on the mainstage. You would think CC did not exist!! ;)

Marco - I think you should be more naive. Argue your point regarding climate change, and do it constantly on blogs, with your family, with people on the street, with your dog, if you don't, you are betraying yourself and the community. I also think you're simplifying the project a bit (and Alison you are in danger of this as well "piece of climate denial propaganda") - Bean doesn't create a piece of propaganda here, if you were going to do that there would be much better ways. He is trying to tease out a silent majority - those who are not active and outspoken, but who simply point to lack of evidence, and he wants to examine the validity of this as a perspective. There are obvious problems... like, if you keep questioning for long enough, you are underwater by the time you take any action. But it's simple pragmatism - and how can you accuse simple pragmatism??? etc

Whether Bean does this well is another story. But I think the impulse for the writer is actually not a bad one, and potentially a good angle from which to examine Climate Change, rather than just pretending it isn't happening or prending this silent majority, currently completely swayed by the Liberal's hilarious hyper-negative campaign, doens't exist?

Anonymous said...

Alisson. Under freedom of information, the emails to the ANU climate scientists were released and found to contain no death threats at all. I think that before you make such comments, you should check your facts otherwise you are just as guilty of sprouting fiction like you say this play does.

Please get your facts right as it is just embarrassing.

Joy Melbourne said...

Have enjoyed reading these posts. Mick, you seem to be the voice of reason to me, your viewpoint is probably closest to how everyday people think about the theatre. Of course it is one sided, it's not ethical journalism, it's a play! I'm pro AGW but loved the show. I left my bias at the door and watched a simple story brilliantly acted and told well. To me the play was actually about love and how that, in the end, is more important than any belief systems you may have. Obviously that has escaped most people who have focused on the CC aspect. Yes Bean wrote it with that in mind but he is also rather good at relationship drama too. I laughed, I cried, I thought about how stupid the whole debate was and loved it. Then I come on here and the debate is just the same, just different words. It's interesting. Keep it up :)

Richard Pettifer said...

Ok Joy... fair enough, except: if love is more important than any belief system, and you are "pro AGW", the logical result of that position is the destruction of humanity, strangled by its own humanism, it's own privelaging of
'love' or 'family'. Sometimes these ideas come at the expense of the environment. Unfortunately the play falls short of making this point.

And this is where the play runs into problems and is also a very accurate premise. We value the human being so highly, and yet in order to value it so highly, we must neccessarily place the environment as secondary. (It's just a shame it doesn't explore this quandry in a more interesting way, and leaves commentators to make this point, although clearly it touched you. But perhaps only, in the end, your humanist sensibilities? If you ended by thinking the whole CC argument is stupid... and that life is just about loving your family and going to the beach and lovin life, well, this is a very validating experience, but it's not accurate, is it? It's just a happy dream.)

Anonymous said...

Provocative point Joy. It immediately brings to mind Brecht whose theoretical writings on theatre I think can be usefully summarised by the motto 'Don't let tears win'. That is beware of how the force of emotional appeal can obscure or even justify the intellectually or politically delinquent. 

Describing yourself as pro AGW is as odd as describing yourself as pro gravity. And yet I cannot fault you for it, as the anti science lobby has been so effective that such a description almost makes sense. And this is why I am so exersized by the MTC's choice. 

It keeps in play the sleight of hand that pretends that there is a wide ranging and enormously controversial scientific debate raging, when in fact any review of the literature shows a pretty mild debate about detail and most of that debate constrained to one question; what value do we give to the warming induced by a doubling of CO2. In short the scientific debate isn't about if the globe will warm but by how much.

Will the MTC programming this play prove a decisive blow for the anti science crowd? No. Had the MTC refused to programme this play would the forces of science have swept from the field the nonsense of the pseudo skeptics? Again no. 

But is it unreasonable to ask that a top of the tree publicly funded arts organisation provide something a little more than tears and laughter to justify 
this excursion into the ethical and political nightmare of pseudo skeptical advocacy?

Richard my point about naivety was not a justification for silence but just an acknowledgement  that this is Alison's place and as a guest manners dictate respect for her request.

 I really will respect your wish Alison but Joy's point opened the door to Brecht and provided me a chink to slip through.

Marco

Richard Pettifer said...

Ok Marco, but I think Alison is more worried about posters with an agenda coming on and sabotaging any potential gains to be made from having a good discussion. I highly doubt that she would object to measured and considered discussion about global warming given that the play's topic is global warming, given that she has acknowledged elsewhere that it is a major concern of hers, and given that it is a paramount global concern on a humanitarian and political level. I think she just doesn't want any soapboxing - anyone coming on here and saying "This is what I reckon about global warming" and then making some bold claim that has nothing at all to do with the piece of theatre at hand. (That right Alison?) I had one of these recently, it's 116 comments long, with some investors here http://www.shareswatch.com.au/blog/opinion/the-deadly-climate-change-and-carbon-tax-swindle/)

It is certainly a big can of worms but it is very important to have these conversations, as frustrating as they are, because when there is a lack of them, the media (or dare I suggest... the theatre?) step in and fill the void with misinformation, common truths and validation for our current lifestyles.

However, I think we'd agree this is not an excuse to merely sound off about whatever opinion, unless one admits one's naivity and wants to learn something. And this is a theatre blog.

To that end... what's the link between Joy's comment and Brecht? It seemed kind of anti-Brecht to me??

Anonymous said...

I paraphrased Brecht as a counterpoint to Joy's argument.

Marco

Richard Pettifer said...

ok sorry I clearly misread

Joy Melbourne said...

Oh Marco, I have no idea who Brecht is, like I said I am an average punter who just enjoys a good show done well so I can't counter you with something equally clever in return. Love and relationships, and not intellect, are more important to most people I would say in my experience, but I thought the play made it clear that you have to think for yourself, whatever side of the fence you sit on, and make up your own mind. I loved watching Ben and Phoebe struggle with these concepts where your people are bombarded with "disaster" stories daily and the guilt they feel for trying to live a green life and carbon neutral which, while a great ideal is hard to do. So it was more about just love. So on that level it was also interesting but I don't think it was "hard hitting" on the science, and this was probably an error with MTC marketing it as such. I think people expected it to be hard hitting on the science, but it wasn't, which makes some people feel cheated, which is a fair point. Despite this, I just loved it for what it was, not what I expected or was told it would be. Hope I make sense, enjoying the insight everyone provides.

Joy Melbourne said...

I'm sorry that was supposed to read "young people" not "your people", I'm on the train and in a hurry!

Richard Pettifer said...

Sorry Joy... I re-read my comments and maybe I've been too wordy.

I was just saying love and relationships are all very well but they don't actually help the broader situation, which science tells us is pointing towards disaster. So it's interesting for me when these two things, family, and this threat of disaster, come into conflict with each other. If everyone focuses on their love and relationships, as you say, the situation actually gets worse, because you spend all your time making a good life for your family and forget about everything else. Leaving the responsibility of a Green Life on the young like Ben and Pheobe is such an incredible burden to bear, and if it's only the young who do anything to change the situation, well, the situation is largely the same, because the young are only a very small part of the population, and they don't have any decision making power in familes or government. So I don't know about whether the play's conclusion, the kind of pleasure you got from the play, is true. In fact, and I say this as politely as possible and not wanting to alarm, I think it's based on a lie that everything will be okay in the end, so it's ok to just keep doing what you're doing. To have people leave the theatre believing this is I think what has made people frustrated about this play.

Brecht is a German theatre artist in the 1920-70's who is most famous for creating theatre techniques which make people think about what they are watching, rather than getting only pleasure from it. He believed in the power of theatre to educate, rather than only to entertain. This was very important in Europe over the two wars and during the Cold War, because it encouraged people not to be brainwashed by what they see and hear from their governments or the media, and to take action when their interests are not being served.

Richard Pettifer said...

Hmmm correction: I just extended Brecht's life into the 70's but it appears he died in 1956! Let's put that down to the influence he's had extending to beyond the grave...

Alison Croggon said...

Hi all - out all day (seeing theatre!) so can't keep up with the thread. Just to clarify: all points of view and associated subjects are welcome here, but incivility is not! Carry on!

tiger said...

Hi Richard, if you explore the audi website, then explore other car makers, and then explore various sites including 'how green is my car' you'll see the advances in diesel fuel and hybrid automotives is being championed by luxury car makers. At one level it just makes sense to them, because they know we're running out (or have begun the slide of having actually run out) of oil to fuel our world.

In terms of being carbon neutral and how hard that is, well it needn't be at all Joy. All it would take is for the non issue that is "the climate is warming and there are effects to be felt" to become equally absorbed by all sides of politics.

On Radio National today, on the science show at 12midday, Robin Wiiliams had a guest on who spoke of the investment in renewables, the amounts being spent by developed and developing countries and the way pricing is drastically reducing and effectiveness wildly improving year on year.

So in actual fact, to use fossil fuels in the face of such an enormous global investment (172billion on renewables last year versus 40billion on fossil fuels) illuminates how furiously politics has no idea about what can be done and how cheaply it can be achieved.

Individual householders are choosing renewables, because it's saving them cash. Simple as that. Even if you take away any of the feed in tariffs.

In 20 years, the coal industry will be a dog, dead in the gutter. It will be because industry is choosing already the place to stick their money.

And Mik, there actually is no scientific dispute as to whether our climate is warming or whether it is affected by emissions created by us humans. That debate is simply one conjured up to make us question what is actually questioned constantly by people who as scientists never stop questioning. Thus, they will question even gravity if it strikes them that it no longer can be suitably explained. And of course, as they explore and question, they further refine the data and the science shows different things. That is science, it is not politics it is just the way we come to know our world.

Desmond said...

It's like all these people have hoisted their beliefs on Mr Gore's wagon, the wheels have fallen off, and they're still out there in the baking desert feverishly and furiously telling themselves and anyone who'll listen that they're on their way the California. Cold hard science is inexorably putting the freeze on the global warming fad and there's not much that can be done about it. Every day that passes is another day that refuses to dance to the climate model's projections. Such a huff over a play-write actually thinking that this might be a good subject for human drama, farce whatever. This subject contains all of that and more, it's rich for picking but has been long ignored.

Anonymous said...

Oh wow. Funny reading the comments.
Exhibit A for why the "artsy" types get stereotyped.

Alison Croggon said...

Gracious. Thanks all for the discussion. I'm out again all day today, but will try to monitor from afar.

If nothing else it demonstrates that people are deeply stirred by the topic at hand. The final two comments are of the kind that don't contribute to debate of any kind: I'll leave them there, but please don't pick up the trollbait. Any more stuff along those lines and I'll start deleting. I'm simply not interested in bullshit anti-science polemic or abuse, especially on an issue which is so fissile. Just one point: @ Anon on the harassment of climate scientists: if you click the link handily provided you can read some of the emails.

One of my favourite Brecht quotes is: "Lead 'em by the balls and their hearts will follow." He wasn't against people feeling in the theatre, or even against pleasure. He just wanted his audiences to be aware of and to think about the things they were feeling, and in particular to apply that awareness and thought to the world around them. Theatre that wakes you up, in other words.

Chris Boyd said...

It seems to me that there are two conspiracy theories at play here. Firstly, the sceptics are imagining that the reason we 'arty types' hated this play is because of its politics. No. The play just sucks.

In fact, the play sucks so badly, that the artytypes are imagining that there must be some dastardly ulterior motive for the MTC making such a godawful decision, to stage The Heretic.

I, for one, would like to hear what prompted the triumvirate to schedule this one.

In my review, I wonder if Richard Bean might he of the devil's party without really knowing it. For a start, Bean has based his heroine on retired Swedish academic Nils-Axel Morner, who is as famous for his sea-level research as he is for his barmy belief in dowsing -- the scientific equivalent of following a forked stick around looking for drinking water.

The other point that seems to have slipped both chook fences in this particular bloggy battlefield is that Bean's AGW agnostic's research actually doesn't deny that water levels are rising around the Maldives. She posits that the islands are (for reason or reasons unknown) rising with the ocean level. That, to me, looks like the dramatic equivalent of an easter egg on a DVD.

Chris Boyd said...

might be of the devil's party

Alison Croggon said...

I don't think it's a conspiracy. I think it's just a pragmatic (some might say cynical) decision to stir up some comment and publicity. Which, you must admit, it has. Yes, I noticed the easter egg too, but that point got lost. Maybe it supports Cameron's contention that Diane is pushed into extremism by the polarising of debate, which otherwise I find hard to see, since she is basically in the same intellectual position at the end of the play as she is in the beginning.

Richard Pettifer said...

hi tiger, I had a look at Audi's website and it seems they DO have an environmental policy, probably no more than any other German company, and some interesting headline innovations like making the plant at Ingolstadt carbon neutral. (There is also something about a bee-hive next to the plant.??.) But you can't help but be a bit cynical at some of this... given that its coming from the car maker itself. From my poking around I was unable to find independant (even amateur) studies of car makers relative environmantal focus. Do you know any of these? And so a healthy dose of cynicism regarding the position of this brand at the opening of The Heretic probably must remain.

Alison Croggon said...

Probably worth remarking here that, even if The Heretic was perhaps an opportunistic and certainly somewhat in-your-face marketing push, Audi is a major sponsor of the STC.

tiger said...

Hey Richard, my point can be more generally seen in light of much new technology - not just in the automotive field. The case is that those with money are generally able to afford new technologies, which once they reach certain production levels become cheaper. Within the automotive industry you see this in everything from airbags to abs braking systems. In solar pv systems for the domestic market, you see that the price for these systems has come down so extensively that what was once a thing only people with money (and who believed in it) could afford, now becomes steadily the choice for people as a matter of course. The thing is that Audi are a luxury car maker, their cheapest products are not very cheap compared to some other brands, this their sponsorship of MTC is I think quite well suited. The idea about cars being polluters, but not something we're going to do away with (ever), is again another excellent tie in. Yes the car is an issue, but the company is taking steps to address it.

The fact therefore remains that irrespective of any politics around any of the science in regard to global warming, human induced climate change or what have you, and irrespective of anything else, the industrial machine has realised that the money is in renewable energy and the future of this as a source of our power is here and growing steadily. It is a fact - despite any politicking - that the cars that are selling mostly now are leaner to run. The way forward is renewables, because they're about to become cheaper, they do work, they are proven to do so, and the way we look at them and argue their points of failure (such as "renewables cannot provide base load power", "I don't see the wind blowing now", "it's not sunny at the moment", etc) completely miss the point. That point is that across the spectrum, with a world that has run out of growth (land, air, water), the human species is adapting. Whether that is a chicken factory in china powering it's entire enterprise and suburb from the chicken manure, or whether it is the way battery technology is improving or even the fact that with every advance, as with computers, the advances exponentially grow.

So that all by way of saying if we want the MTC to remain around and not to such up more public money, then tying in with sponsors makes total sense. In the case of Audi, that tie in to me seems very well targeted. The audience are the ones who can afford the luxury cars they produce, and they understand that climate change, global warming and the effects of humans on the planet (irrespective of anything) is something that is fraught. Like cars. But if we're going to discuss/argue then we may as well do it in such a way that we look good driving something, as well as taking some small action (in driving a more efficient vehicle).

Anonymous said...

Allison - “Just one point: @ Anon on the harassment of climate scientists: if you click the link handily provided you can read some of the emails.”

Sorry Allison, but that comment is misleading.

The media scandal of the last year have (wrongly) alleged “death threats”. Your original post above *explicitly* referred to “death threats”.

And yet when the Anon poster pointed out that there were no death threats, you respond by referring to... “harassment”.

It’s interestingly that a lot of Warmists (for lack of a better word) get upset that nobody takes their word for granted any more. I would politely suggest a bit of self-reflection on your own behaviours might be helpful.

PS – If you are an honest person, Allison, you should probably correct your posts’ incorrect claims of death-threats. The ball’s in your court...

CS

Alison Croggon said...

Let's be clear: the harassment of climate scientists at ANU during the six month period covered by the FOI request (which postdated by a year or so the movement of scientists to more secure premises after some aggressive anti-climate science visitors caused them to fear for their safety) included lots of harassment, but seems not to have included emailed death threats.

However, in the link I posted, a climate scientist recounts a sceptic at an event threatening him: "Moreover, before he left, he came to the Fri dinner and showed other participants his gun licence and explained to them how good a sniper he is." That sounds like a death threat to me.

The truth is that climate scientists around Australia report receiving routine harrassment from the so-called sceptics (a description which seems to me an abuse of an honourable word). Media Watch covered this pretty well last night. If you go to the website, you can download a pdf of recent death threats received by climate scientists. Examples, slightly edited to remove surrounding obscenities, include:

"You will be chased down the street with burning stakes and hung from your f*** neck, until you are dead, dead, dead!"

"Die you lying bastard!"

"People that promote [the theory of global warming] should be put down."

Sound like death threats to me.

Alison Croggon said...

As a PS: quite aside from the question of death threats, the level of abuse directed at climate scientists for simply doing their job is way unacceptable. Or do you think if they're not being threatened with death, it's all ok?

Richard Pettifer said...

Hi tiger, seems like you've got a handle on it all - really optimistic and positive

All I will say is that public money makes up about 9% of MTC revenue so I doubt they are in danger of "soaking up" too much public money. Victoria does not have a state theatre company. Ironically, German theatres don't need Audi sponsership because they are state theatres, quite well supported.

Looks like Audi are making some progress, with some headline actions like making the plant at Ingolstadt carbon neutral, though German companies seem to be generally quite progressive on Global Warming, which means they will probably make a bunch of money in the near future I guess

Richard Pettifer said...

Their literature also champions a bee hive they have developed near their plant. Which just seems a bit weird?

tiger said...

Richard, yes optimism is the nature of the game. For whether it's the way Audi (and the German economy for that matter) are approaching it, or whether you look around and see how much better our lives are becoming (through less air pollution for instance), the future is absolutely bright I think.

If you look at Japan, and the way (I think almost all) their nuclear plants have closed down, and with them not re-opening (because local residents/govts) have been given the power to say no, the fact is they are still lighting up their houses and cooking their meals. So optimism is the name of the game especially when you consider that simply through the sheer force of consumption and capitalism the game has already changed and for that we can br hopeful. It is those places and people and companies and countries that don't see the potential that will lose out.

I like to think of the idea of how simple this argument really is. If you keep chucking stuff into the atmosphere, and you keep piling up crap in the soil, and if you keep fishing out every species from the ocean and if you keep sticking poison in yourself or your planet, some day that planet or that body or that piece of land is just gonna cough up something pretty nasty and so whether or not we're warming or not, or whether we're all going to die or not, or whether we're going to lose money or not; the simple fact is that we know as a species that you cannot forever keep doing stuff without a response occurring. So yeah, we're choking to death basically and no-one could argue that chopping down as many trees as possible, or sticking chemicals in rivers forever won't lead to some consequences. And humans know this, and they change and adapt and make sense of the change and thus save themselves. And in the process, we evolve as a species and we evolve to overcome and prosper.

In relation to mtc and their public ask, yes they don't get very much at all when you look at their total revenue - my point is that they must sell tickets to make revenue, and unless they do this, then they will need further propping up from public funds. So if we don't want to part with more cash for their activities (or we feel that the money they don't take from a general 'arts budget' should be spent on other arts activities such as indy theatre) then we should in many ways be supportive of their right to program what sounds and feels like a bit of a dog!

tiger said...

Richard, in relation to the bee hive. I don't know too much about that, but can tell you that various things regarding the european honey bee is causing great consternation. Colony collapse disorder (CCD) is leading to the collapse of bee colonies (hives). The effects are great when you consider the role honey bees play in food production/agriculture. Many plants require insect pollination (many others though are pollinated through wind or other means). Thus, when honey bees start disappearing agriculture starts stressing... and we all should probably be a little concerned.

Various things have been proposed as reasons for the emergence of CCD - including GM crops. In Poland just recently a Monsanto maize (corn) seed was banned. Mon 180 (I think it's referred to as) was found to cause CCD and thus is banned.

Monsanto recently bought the one independent research company that had been providing the research about CCD and which was proving links between GM seeds and CCD.

In Western Australia, Monsanto are funding the legal bills of a farmer whose GM seeds blew onto organic farmer Steve Marsh's property and thus stripping most of his enormous cereal grain farm from organic status.

The varroa mite is another cause that may be leading to CCD, and there are suggestions that generalised pollution could be an issue, and other potential causes.

On the way Monsanto has been able to gain a place in Australia we should be perhaps a little worried. They have no independent research that backs up their claims - the information used by our authorities is provided by yes, firms paid for and scientists in the employ of Monsanto. There seems to be no credible evidence to show that any of their claims stack up - and now the one company researching the effects of GM seed stocks on bees has been bought by them!

In the UK, following a scare campaign about maybe the rise in food allergies and anaphylaxis was linked with the rise in GM ingredients, the govt brought in laws that made food labelling of GM necessary. At which point, with the introduction of such the rise stopped, the levels of allergies plateaued. Perhaps a compelling case for further research?

If you want to be scared, perhaps look at nano technology. Talk to someone who works in nano research and ask them about nano sunscreen and what bhp found out about their workers using sunscreen and the effect it had on their roofing products. Then perhaps ask why 3 stage human trials undertaken by the same methods and rules governing pharmaceuticals are not being mandated. The effects in mice would make you seriously choose a hut, long sleeves and that white zinc - not the invisible stuff! In the words of one phD candidate, "You're better off using LeTan".

Alison Croggon said...

Hope you're right, tiger. The other possibility is that the increasing crisis triggers destructive panic reflexes that only amplify the situation (xenophobia, extreme politics, conflict, war) and thus we save the planet through human extinction. I mean, whatever happens to us, the planet won't care. Things like the plethora of fundamentalist belief, the irrational attacks on science etc are part of the detritus of modernity.

I do think the emphasis on climate change obscures equally urgent, if related, problems, such as the mass species extinction that is presently taking place. It's equally devastating and is beyond argument or "opinion".

Btw. it's pretty certain now that the bee problem is down to a certain class of pesticide called neonicotinoids that came into use in the 1990s.

Richard Pettifer said...

hey tiger, I have barely an idea of what you're on about, but I think that's your point, that the world is very big and I'm very small and there is a lot of bad stuff happening, but to be honest I knew that already.

I certainly don't deny there is a bee problem in the Euro zone, and thanks everyone for the info. The bee thing just felt weird being in the global warming thingo for a car company just because shouldn't the priority for a car company be reducing co2 in their vehicles and production. I would prefer they focused on that rather than beekeeping. But it does make some pretty pictures and a nice narrative - and this is part of the problem.

Also Alison, I have to admit I always find the "planet won't care" argument a bit annoying because as someone who spends their life in study and love of humanity it bothers me that we would all end up as some little time capsule and it would all be for nothing. It's a fun and dramatic argument but if we take the value of our lives seriously it means struggling further than this. Although I take your point that the discussion is largely trivial and irrelevant.

Alison Croggon said...

Er...what? I didn't at any point say that we shouldn't care what happens to us or our planet. Personally speaking, I care deeply. It's merely a banal fact that the planet will carry on without us as happily as it has carried on without dinosaurs or mammoths. And one day it will plunge into the sun, and that will be the end of that. To me, that seems to focus things rather sharply on our responsibilities now, rather than suggesting that caring about it is "largely trivial and irrelevant."

Richard Pettifer said...

Ok, but it's not really a "banal" fact, is it? To engage with this idea is incredible, impossible and creates a myriad of responses from people everywhere. People spend their lives responding to this, others become incredibly frightened if they think about it, some try to find a way out, (like the Russian trans-humanist theorist I went to hear the other day who was speaking about the irony of global warming being that it is actually desirable to have warming on Mars so we can inhabit it). It's a big idea... to reduce it to something banal is a bit trivialising. It's a thought that should spur our imagination, not stifle it.

... and so what I meant is that those "detritus of modernity" your refer to, arguments over whether or not we should or shouldn't have a carbon tax, "but can we believe the science or not???????" etc, seem a bit trivial and irrelevant, in the context of this very big question.

Cameron Woodhead said...

Chris, it's naive to think that one's politics don't have a role in deciding whether one hated the play. Your own accusation of facetiousness (and utterly presumptuous speculation re Bean's own ignorance) has a decidedly political component: "The seriousness of the issues bandied about is so constantly undermined by the jokiness of the writing, I wondered if Bean might be a true comedian and of the devil's party without knowing it."

The urgency with which critics have rushed to denounce as heresy a play called, um, The Heretic should give us pause.

As for the "Easter Egg", I don't think it's an Easter Egg at all. Diane clearly knows how bias operates in scientific circles, whether the pressure comes from environmental groups or mining companies. Nor does she demur when confronted with any of the main scientific concepts that underpin the case for ACG.

You might argue that she's in the same place intellectually at the end of the play, Alison, but her uncowed scepticism - an asset in the context of rigorous scientific study - has been driven, by beserk polarisation, to a partisan purpose: writing tendentious articles for the Torygraph. Hardly an ideal result.

Chris Boyd said...

Oh Cameron, I'm beginning to think you have no actual concept of individual differences. Either that or I'm too much of a chameleon.

And, man, of anyone I know, surely you would have picked up on my paraphrase of Blake: his take on Milton's treatment of Satan in Paradise Lost.

Alison Croggon said...

Hi Cameron - one of the things that is very clear in the discussion is that anyone familiar with the arguments of climate denialism - as opposed to scepticism, which is frankly quite a different thing - can't but notice how they underpin all the so-called claims to science in the play. At the beginning of the play Diane is touting those arguments - the Maldives sea level argument is a recognisable and debunked denialist argument - just as she is at the end of the play. At no point anywhere in the play are any of these arguments subjected to even the smallest challenge: she is the beacon of reason in a sea of corruption or well meaning delusion. This makes it difficult to read this as any sort of intellectual progress. I see your point about polarization, but there's no sense anywhere that writing for the Torygraph has caused Diane to compromise her principles. Fwiw, I don't think this play is "heresy": it's a piece of soft propaganda, as are many plays of this kind, and rather cynically poised to create exactly the kind of argument that it has.

Cameron Woodhead said...

I got the literary reference Chris but failed to see how it applies, given you find the play so "bad" (and presented this as a matter of fact rather than faith).

Alison, Yes, I've read Clive Hamilton too. You might "get" the polarization argument but don't seem to see that it extends to the play's reception, and that you're part of it. On one level, Bean's is a brilliant ploy because he manipulates the audience into interpreting the play according to what the audient *already believes*. Evidence that doesn't fit with your simple schema of The Heretic being "cynical propaganda" becomes an "Easter Egg" or is ignored altogether (e.g. contra your statement that Diane's arguments don't find "even the smallest challenge", they are challenged, directly, by Maloney, who takes us through carbon emissions since the Industrial Revolution and their predicted effect on the environment).

I'm open to a wide variety of reactions and responses to The Heretic, but it does disturb me that so many seem more one-sided than the play itself. And it is a pretty one-sided play.

Long time mtc subscriber said...

Here's what I thought...

The sets were okay/average for MTC. I liked the snow falling through the windows and the lighting at the end as the sun rose..but that's about it.

I thought the main character/Dianne was the most realistic - though I am not sure Noni is well cast for the role. I felt she seemed depressed and plodding. She seemed more like a school teacher than a university academic. ('Playschool'?)

The daughter and Ben characters were entertaining, though a little unbelievable. Ben was like an excited puppy dog - but then the razor scene was off; it just didn't fit. The daughter seemed to be too trendy in her dress for a nerdy social outcast.

The other characters were cartoon like. The whole militia thing was over done. I thought the investigator was ridiculous. He didn't seem to belong in this play.

What was that scene when they went on a rant about Mel Gibson? I felt embarrassed. The scene where they looked at the hacking on the computers went on and on and seemed to go nowhere. And the end of the first act, when Diane called her co workers cunts (oh and by the way, what was that thing with the bear - embarrassed again!) - done to wake the audience perhaps?

And some of the opening parts of scenes when nothing happened for no good reason - a waste of time.

I felt the play was badly written and needed a brave editing and reshaping. Far too long.

It didn't worry me about the climate change info - I didn't expect a play to sway me either way given the complexity of the debate; but I think an opportunity was lost to illustrate the religious type zeal of each side of the debate, in which scientists etc have dug themselves in, having staked their careers/reputations on one 'side' or the other.

In a word - forgettable.

long time MTC subscriber said...

p.s. it didn't make sense that the professor character was in love with Diane but also arranged for her sacking. The part where she described the lead up to his hand under her jumper in that descriptive speech was another cringeworthy part that didn't 'fit' with her character - why recite that supposedly tender story when she was angry? Were we supposed to wonder if her daughter was his (even though she used the surname Gallagher)? Why the ongoing threat to use the hand under the jumper incident as a sexual harrassment incident? It didn't work. I can see why MTC chose it, given it won an award and is controversial. But not one of their best...

Alison Croggon said...

Hi, LTMTCS - thanks for your comment. Sounds like we're pretty much on the same page with this one.

Anonymous said...

' I think an opportunity was lost to illustrate the religious type zeal of each side of the debate, in which scientists etc have dug themselves in, having staked their careers/reputations on one 'side' or the other.'

At the risk of becoming the resident climate bore it is this type of comment that underlines how successful the pseudo skeptic strategy has been.

2 + 2= 4  That there may exist many passionate people firmly convinced that 2 + 2= 6 does not mean that all those fourers have dug themselvs in it simply means the sixers are mistaken. However there may in fact exist many who are repelled by the zeal with which the fourers repudiate the innumeracy of the sixers and can't help but think that temperance better suits the affairs of men and so are more of the opinion that five is probably where the truth lies.

Obviously climatology is more complex than arithmetic but at the objective, empirical level there is very little controversy regarding the impact of increased levels of co2 on the earth's energy budget.

Yet the pseudo skeptic would have us believe that AGW is about to come tumbling down for its validity rests not on physics but the gravy train that is AGW advocacy or any of the myriad canards they employ to hide the fact that in twenty years of pseudo skepticism they have not been able to land a glove on the physics and more damning still, have failed to marshall a credible alternative  hypothesis that accounts for rising sea levels, rising global temperature, stratospheric cooling etc.

The pseudo skeptic relies on the complexity of the science and the scientific illiteracy of a good many of us to drive a wedge between reality and ideology.

The Heretic (which I think is a very amusing play) is a pretty decent pseudo skeptic tract as it exploits this common illiteracy and flatters it by pretending that we are participating in a necessary debate.

Marco

Alison Croggon said...

Thanks, Marco. You sum it up very well. The immediate contrast is how Reagan and Thatcher accepted the science on CFCs destroying the ozone layer and how relatively quickly international co-operation was reached on banning aerosols. But of course the industries around CFCs didn't have the economic power of the oil and coal industries.

Anonymous said...

Nice Review.

DM said...

I thought the play was unmitigated garbage. I've been a season subscriber for ten years, I've simply never seen anything like it before.

The brilliant scientist, in her closing speech, declares our superiority over the stars because "Stars never split the atom". Let's not pretend for a moment that this is a fission/fusion distinction (or that the author would even understand the distinction). This line should be the beginning, middle and end of any review of this work. The jaw-dropping ignorance and stupidity of the playwright, and everyone involved in the selection and production of the play, could not be shown in more stark relief.

I garnered more enjoyment from your review than the play by a significant margin (though I fear that is damning with faint praise), and your review didn't cost me $50 a ticket.

- A disgusted scientist.

AL said...

DM Brilliantly put... I wholeheartedly agree.

As for the MTC believing they're being "avant garde" and "controversial"... Last time I checked, controversial theatre was supposed to question DOMINANT ideology, not reinforce tea-party sentiments and denialism.

The Heretic is just that: nothing short of climate change denial propaganda masquerading as a "fair and balanced" assessment of the facts and a legitimate attempt to debunk bogus "science".

It's sad because Hazlehurst's performance is the only worthwhile bit of the evening - and yes, I realise that the only likable bit is a totally UNLIKABLE character.

Unlike Clive Hamilton, I found The Heretic neither "funny" nor a "Heart-warming family" drama (though, I suspect there was a tongue lodged firmly in a cheek for that assessment). Not only did I find it bland, it was poorly acted (beyond Hazlehurst), accents were cringe-worthy and our security guard/ HR manager brought a whole new level of camp to performances not fit for an elementary-school stage.

While sound and sets were very well done, I'm saddened to see such tech talent, time and money thrown at a truly bullshit script and a bullshit attempt to further legitimise the status quo.

Before the MTC goes on patting themselves on the back for a 4.5 star rating from the Herald Sun, it would do them well to remember who their reviewers are.

As a first-year subscriber (trying to convince her partner that the theatre is a worthwhile investment) tonight's performance just set me back.... WAAAAAY back.

The deux-ex-machina, wrap-it-all-up-neatly-in-a-pretty-little-bow-ending (in the form of Hazlehurst's pseudo-humanist star soliloquy) was just the nail in the coffin of one horrible, tragic, slow (and I mean SLOW - 2 hrs 40 mins SLOW) motion train wreck farce of a theatre experience.