The Contingency Plan

Two very good full length plays for the price of one on the subject of climate change and the apocalyptic vision of Britain submerged in floods and floating to oblivion … Heaven knows, the world must come to an end somehow, but I barely thought I’d be having nightmares on the subject after an afternoon and evening at the Bush.

Steve Waters is best known for Fast Labour at Hampstead and World Music at the Donmar, but in embracing epic themes so confidently he makes a huge leap forward, combining the forensic intelligence of David Edgar with the gift for dramatically sustained argument of David Hare.

In On the Beach, Will Paxton (Geoffrey Streatfeild, the RSC’s Henry V last year), a young glaciologist, returns home to Norfolk, where his father Robin (Robin Soans), a former glaciologist in the Antarctic, is concentrating on the local birdlife while storm clouds gather on the horizon.

Old Robin, like most of us, is coping with the future by ignoring it; the difference is, he knows what’s up, while his wife, Jenny (Susan Brown), boasts of reducing their carbon consumption to just four tons a year.

Three days of rain later, in the second play, Resilience, the West Country has been inundated by storms and rain reminiscent of the floods of 1953, and the whole country is moving to a state of alert.

Will has taken up his role as an expert adviser in the new Tory government; his girlfriend Sarika (Stephanie Street, so brilliant in the Muslim dating play Shades at the Royal Court), a biochemist, is a top civil servant in the climate change department run by David Bark-Jones’ chummy minister who relishes there being “something festive about a national catastrophe”.

Will’s parents, last seen fearing the worst as they’ve cut the telephone lines, blocked the road and breached their own defences, are transformed by Soans and Brown into a table-thumping scientific adviser and a smartly suited Minister for Resilience in the second play.

The two directors, Michael Longhurst and Tamara Harvey, have done a great job in deploying the talents of a fine quintet of actors in a show that has good jokes and genuine political significance. Tom Scutt’s design ingeniously suggests wide open beaches and the closed doors (and closed minds) of cabinet. Scary stuff, but scarily good stuff, too.

– Michael Coveney