The climate disaster. The great looming end made up of a myriad of smaller endings; extinctions, floods, and fearsome bushfires. What else is at stake? Could we lose something as monumental as a season? Are we already on our way to a world without winter?
Jane Phegan’s character in this one-woman show was, like nearly 1 million people living in Australia, born in England and she still carried memories of white Christmases and frosty mornings that are nonexistent in Sydney. So, she went in search of winter nearby in the Southern Alps of New Zealand, Antarctic travel logs, and Google Maps jaunts to the Arctic Circle. In her search for the cold, she encountered the science of climate change, the evidence of an ever-warming planet, moving closer to a world without winter anywhere, let alone Australia. This threat of loss drew on the personal loss of her mother and the many memories tied up in childhood in the Northern Hemisphere.
This new script by Noëlle Janaczewska weaved together the intimate and the global by tying together the loss of a mother with the loss of Mother Earth and the end of winter with the end of childhood. As an exploration of climate science, the script regularly returned to personal details and memories, not only of character but also her research into the lives of polar explorers who encountered snowy landscapes that we’re unlikely to ever see again, to humanise the stark scientific facts. While the metaphorical mirroring of the climate science and the character’s personal grief was sound, there often felt to be an overabundance of research that overshadowed the character’s personality and her motivation for searching out winter. This caused a kind of stuttering emotional arc that was ultimately unsatisfying.
Similarly, the direction from Kate Gaul was clean and confident with easy transitions between the script’s different modes but perhaps a rougher, rawer tone would have given the audience more to hold on to. For example, in the closing scene, the character had a prolonged silence, a moment of contemplation that also afforded the audience a moment to digest. This kind of space given to the other emotional beats of the production may have allowed them to resonate more. That being said, Phegan’s performance added a certain warmth to her character’s icy interest with an air of gentle care and consideration that gave the production a pleasant weight.
The production design by Soham Apte had a dreamy quality that could have easily turned nightmarish with a small wooden model house sinking backwards into a black pool. The shiny black surface of the stage was reminiscent of the oily surface of Richard Wilson’s installation “20:50” where the sleek opacity was tense and foreboding. But the lighting design (Becky Russell) and sound design with composition by Nate Edmondson and co-composition by Kaitlyn Crocker were more comforting for the warm glow emanating from the house and a soundscape incorporating bird calls, relaxing instrumentals, and a whooping kind of vocal like a call from across a great distance. These elements particularly recreated the sensation of the character’s expedition to cold, isolated locations with their unique atmospheric signatures.
The facts of climate change are brutal and can easily become paralysing but this gentle rumination on the past offers a reconciliation of grief and speculation. Perhaps, sadly, the future unifying force will be loss underpinning the love.
The End of Winter is running at SBW Stables Theatre from February 2nd – 12th
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