Green and Pleasant Land
The message is not a new one: grow your own, cycle, don’t buy so much ‘new’ stuff, however theatre has not had the best track record in finding effective and dramatic ways of communicating this message. FanSHEN may have cracked it with their unique blend of humour, physical comedy, song, meta-theatrical references and sense of whimsy and fun. Although children’s theatre (especially outdoor children’s theatre) is not often described as subtle, the way FanSHEN introduce the ‘Plan B’ to our current lifestyles is done with a sense of humour and lightness of touch. Two dog puppets, Tally-Ho and Toodle-Pip, introduce the idea of growing more vegetables with cardboard title cards and physical comedy. Other aspects of ‘Plan B’ are introduced through a “Boomchicka” rap song -set to a complex coordinated handshake. The show has an obvious, clear message but never falls into sanctimonious preaching. Rather it seems to suggest and call forth some common sense actions that seem easily achievable. The show does not employ guilt or shame or fear to try to convince people, rather explores the question of what happens if the current status quo of constant consumption comes to a halt. When I saw the show on a sunny spring afternoon in a park in South London, the children in the audience seemed to enjoy it – they were engaged by the songs, the physicality of the performers, silly voices and costumes, humour and the idea of pedaling the bikes to generate the power for the show. The engagement of the children prompted the parents to consider their own lifestyles as the children eagerly asked why things were happening and questioned why alternatives were not already being adopted. After the show ended, I overheard parents explaining some of the ideas to their children, such as why growing vegetables is good for living more sustainability. Children would proudly exclaim when they were doing some of things already, such as walking to school and loudly ask their parents why they weren’t recycling at home.
The design of the piece had a hand-made, do-it-yourself look combined with some tropes of a summer fete such as colourful bunting. The bikes, which powered the sound, meant that people were able to immediately connect the idea of power generation and power consumption – an often invisible relationship. The bikes were located just beside the playing area, in full view and would become the focus as the sound levels fluctuated based on how fast someone was pedaling. At the end of the show, people gathered around the bikes, trying them out and asking questions about how they worked. Demonstrating this type of technology, within the frame of a performance, meant that it was accessible to the public, they could see it in action and then try it themselves. I do not suggest however that this would lead towards adopting cycle power in their individual homes. Rather this seems to make an embodied, material connection to what it is to generate and consume power. It is not a simply case of plugging something in and turning it on, there is a whole network of ecological relationships at play. Green and Pleasant Land revealed some of these relationships in a charming and funny piece of children’s theatre, proving that ecological messages can make good performances.