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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Walden
Harold Pinter Theatre   Summer 2021

There is a peculiar contradiction to Amy Berryman’s play Walden at the Harold Pinter Theatre. With broad brush strokes, it seems to proclaim the theme of climate emergency, but then does nothing with the theme beyond making it a tokenistic backdrop to the weird friction between the twin sisters Stella (Gemma Arterton) and Cassie (Lydia Wilson).

The play is set in the near future when environmental disasters are causing millions of deaths. The U.S. government seems intent on responding to the crisis by colonising Mars.

Cassie, an astronaut who has spent ten months on the Moon, is visiting Stella, who lives with Bryan (Fehinti Balogun) in a wooden shack close to the Canadian border. He is a member of the environmentalist group Earth Advocacy (EA), believes the government should focus on saving the planet Earth and spends his time hunting deer, growing plants and giving kindly advice to everyone.

Although Cassie is initially horrified at meeting an EA member (I have no idea why), she quickly tries to shift into romantic gear with him. Meanwhile, the friction with her sister focuses on her preference to make Earth relationships rather than flying to Mars for the rest of her life. Stella, on the other hand, yearns for outer space rather than an earthbound family. Eventually, Stella settles on making a baby which she describes as her new planet.

Perhaps the play simply means to recycle the old story of women having to make a choice between career (astronaut) and a family, but it comes with no depth, little realism and lots of puzzling distractions such as the passing reference to the astronauts being sterilised.

The lightness of the plot places extra pressure on the actors who are directed into a one-dimensional display, in which the women’s body language appears vulnerable, restricted and edged with distress, while the man in contrast is relaxed, amiable and caring.

At least in this play the man is not the subject of the plot. In fact, he isn't even necessary for the play except as a bit of romantic interest on the side. But it will take more than small changes to help a play that is lost in space.

Keith McKenna

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Review of  Walden - Harold Pinter Theatre 2021

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