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Lungs and The Solid Life of Sugar Water. Edinburgh Fringe, 21st and 23rd August

In a short space of time, in two quite different performances at the Edinburgh Fringe, I saw two couples hold conversations about lost babies. In Paynes Plough's Lungs, he (Abdul Salish) and she (Sian Reese-Williams) talk at, through, and sometimes even to each other. In Graeae's The Solid Life of Sugar Water, he (Arthur Hughes) and she (Genevieve Barr) chat conversationally to the audience about each other, and sometimes even to each other. Both plays (and the productions, and the performances I saw) were emotionally intense, and hit an emotional climax with the loss of an unborn baby.

The most intense moment in the play Lungs by Duncan MacMillan is the emotional reaction to the early miscarriage. So much has been invested in thinking about how well they will bring "it" up, the loss is simply unthinkable. The most intense moment in The Solid Life of Sugar Water by Jack Thorne is the (literally) screamingly painful delivery of the already dead baby close to term: to maximise the chances of having babies in the future, she has to go through labour. Side by side on their shared bed, he and she remember out loud the experience of conceiving and delivering the lost baby, weaving the rhythm of still birth through the rhythms of conception. (This powerful scene provoked tears in quite a few members of the audience.)

In Lungs, W and M conceive the baby while on two different planets (psychologically speaking), and, having lost it, wield their grief as a destructive weapon, so that any thought of a relationship is killed off. In The Solid Life, the joy of conception and the violent pain and grief of the viscerally agonising loss are shared (even though they are on different planets, physiologically speaking). The comfort Phil and Alice find in each other as they make love again points towards a bending and stretching of the relationship to accommodate the new emotional landscape. The Solid Life is shattering to watch yet contains a germ of hope.

If only M and W's ecologically dead relationship had played out more like the raw, living, grounded relationship in performance in The Solid Life. But then, if if had been, Lungs would be a rather different climate change play. For a note of hope, look to a play that seemingly isn't about the environment, and yet has much to say about life.

Empathy and Eco-theatre, Northern Broadsides' King Lear.

Most audiences watching King Lear would probably not describe it as eco-theatre at first sight. For eco-critic Ralph W. Black, commenting in 1994, the penny possibly dropped as a result of an environmental re-contextualisation of the recorded performance quite a few years on from the original production, and two years on from the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. Speaking as a spectator, the eco-theatrical penny seemed to me to drop in this Northern Broadsides production because of the all-too-human emotional connections wrought in the all-important first scene. When we see Lear in the storm reach a new understanding of the relationship between nature and the social order, empathy is the spectatorial order of the day: 'Oh I have ta'en too little care of this. [...]. | Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel, | That thou may'st shake the superflux to them.' III.4.32-35). As Black commented in his 1994 paper, 'the ecosystemic relationships within a literary text will often reach out and implicate us in its web.' Read more...

Performance seen on 2nd May 2015.

Watery magic in Cheek by Jowl’s 2011 production of The Tempest in Russian at the Warwick Arts Centre.

The cold sensation of water tricking down the neck was literally used to produce a shivery reaction to the supernatural. As a spectator, I identified with the actor, suffering a sympathetic shiver. I empathised with the characters in the play beset by spirits. On another level I was experiencing our inevitable connection to (and vulnerability within) nature. (Performance seen by Julie Hudson in March 2011.)