- Miles Hedley
THE GRETCHEN QUESTION at The Shipwright, Deptford
The Gretchen Question couldn’t have a more serious theme – the catastrophe facing our planet due to manmade climate change. But rather than being a solemn sermon, the play is wonderfully mischievous in the way it exposes the potential horrors we are unleashing on the world.
Cleverly conflating reality and invention, director Molly Still and co-writer Max Barton have created a multilayered, time-jumping, interlinking triple narrative about a cosmic energy-giving pearl, the melting polar icecap and the threat to humanity’s future seen from the perspective of three fictional women in three different eras – with the help of factual people in fictional situations.
The drama – staged outdoors in the riverside grounds of the fabulous Master Shipwright’s House in Deptford – opens with Gretchen, the intellectually gifted but fictional sister of genuine 18th century Swedish naturalist Daniel Solander and wife of legendary and very real English explorer and scientist Joseph Banks. The characters are played in turn by Lauren Moakes, Ryan Gerald and Alex Mugnaioni.
Next up is near-future and fatally naïve influencer Maisie, played by Yohanna Ephrem, who is sent to the Arctic to live-stream a podcast celebrating the operations being undertaken by what she soon discovers is a deeply dodgy enterprise.
And finally we have present-day poet Lulit (Tamaira Hesson) whose life takes a harrowing dive after she comes to one morning face-down on an ice rink with no memory of the previous night.
Over the course of the next 90 minutes, accompanied by a magnificent score by Second Body played live, we follow the inexorable descent into disaster of this trio as they mingle with the likes of German literary genius Goethe, various members of the Royal Society in Georgian London, contemporary manual labourers and appalling near-future TV executives. The roles are shared out between a multitasking cast that also features Katherine Manners, Al Nedjari and Christopher Saul.
It may sound confusing with its mixture of myth and science, its interwoven plotlines and its refusal to tell it straight but the truth is that this Fuel Theatre production is not only as clear as a bell but it also perfectly reflects modern life where nothing in the world of science, the world of commerce, the world of politics or even the wider world – all themes at the heart of this play - is either black and white or easily compartmentalised.
If you want to spend an evening in gorgeous surroundings watching a work that will make you laugh as much as think due to terrific writing and equally terrific acting, this is definitely for you. I loved it.
The Gretchen Question runs till 2 October. Info and tickets at https://fueltheatre.com/projects/the-gretchen-question/