Extinct review – firenadoes, melting ice and one hour to halt apocalypse

Theatre Royal Stratford East, London
Featuring plague and shootouts in M&S, XR supporter April De Angelis’s dystopic climate drama is a powerful, urgent polemic

During Extinction Rebellion’s climate protests of 2019, April De Angelis staged a riotous drama called Mrs Noah in Parliament Square in central London. A riff on the biblical floods, it reflected on human extinction with laughs along the way.

Now comes another climate drama in which De Angelis declares her XR affiliations, but with no hint of levity. We begin in a dystopic 2030. The narrator, played by Kiran Landa, tells us of a nuclear hot sun, marauding gangs and shootouts in M&S food halls. The scenario bears some echoes of pandemic stresses, from the food queues to the pervading panic.

Kiran Landa in Extinct, whole set view
‘We are now experiencing the sixth mass extinction’ ... Landa in Extinct. Photograph: The Other Richard

But just as the scene is set, the story switches. Landa announces herself as the writer – De Angelis – and begins to present an argument for urgent climate action. “We are now experiencing the sixth mass extinction,” she says and weaves together facts and figures on everything from forest fires, floods, greenhouse gases and deforestation to oil and plastics, with recorded testimonies from XR members.

Directed by Kirsty Housley, this turn pulls the rug from under our feet at first and makes the show feel like an XR action rather than a play. At times, it looks and sounds like an educational documentary, with diagrams flashing up on projections across the floor and on an angled screen above the set.

Kiran Landa in Extinct, with watering can and plants
How does your garden grow? Extinct. Photograph: The Other Richard

But this lecture builds its drama with its own gripping truth. We hear that the bubonic plague lurks within the planet’s melting ice (“What new pandemics lurk in the future?”), that the soil is disappearing, that vegetation is becoming less nutritious and that forest fires are triggering “fire tornadoes”. The testimony of a British Bengali woman, Suhayla, who returns to her grandmothers in Bangladesh to tell the story of the floods that are destroying huge swathes of life, is especially powerful.

Landa gives a rousing performance while Nina Dunn’s projections are atmospheric and look epic on upper and lower screens, from drifting clouds to undulating ocean waves. The writing, too, has standout moments, and is novelistic in its descriptions. All elements combined create a sense of dread and danger.

The work’s “making” is explicit: it takes place before us with cameras, green screens and audio recordings turned on and off. These meta elements, along with the overt switch to theatrical activism, trigger certain questions: is this a play or a piece of polemic? Does a drama always require the suspension of disbelief? Can a lecture be a drama if it contains story and suspense?

Extinct makes the point that climate apocalypse is within sight – not so very removed from the initial, imagined scenario in 2030, and that we need to act. “I have an hour to convert you to the cause of climate change,” says the narrator. Even if Extinct preaches to the converted, there is plenty of power in that. Here, it feels necessary and urgent.


Arifa Akbar

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Mrs Noah fights back: 'It's about extinction. There is no bigger story'
Among the protesters heading for parliament are Noah’s family and Ade Adepitan as God in a suit. April De Angelis talks about turning the biblical flood into riotous drama

Arifa Akbar

14, Apr, 2019 @2:00 PM

Article image
The Village review – teenage firebrand leads resistance against patriarchy
Anya Chalotra is compelling as a 16-year-old who leads the women in her Indian village to stand up to Art Malik’s sadistic, tyrannical cop

Michael Billington

15, Sep, 2018 @9:00 AM

Article image
From Hamlet to Hullabaloo: what to see as theatres and comedy clubs reopen
As stage shows return, we pick the best post-lockdown offerings – featuring Egyptian gods, rebelling vicars, dancing youths ... and Ian McKellen playing the Dane at 82

Arifa Akbar (theatre), Brian Logan (comedy), Lyndsey Winship (dance)

16, May, 2021 @2:00 PM

Article image
Rita, Sue and #MeToo: 'There'd be outrage if it was written today'
Was the Royal Court right to put on Rita, Sue and Bob Too? We asked three playwrights to look afresh at Andrea Dunbar’s story of two girls preyed on by an older man

Ella Carmen Greenhill , Atiha Sen Gupta and April De Angelis

17, Jan, 2018 @4:23 PM

Article image
846 Live review – rousing shout-out keeps flame of activism alive
A basketball court becomes a stage to deliver short plays of protest over racial injustice, completing a fine festival embedded in its London community

Arifa Akbar

13, Sep, 2020 @11:58 AM

Article image
Jumpy review – April De Angelis’s toe-curling mother-daughter truths
Cora Bissett’s spirited revival is performed by a fine ensemble beneath a towering set but doesn’t go deeper than a lightweight observational comedy

Mark Fisher

02, Nov, 2016 @12:00 PM

Article image
Only rebellion will prevent an ecological apocalypse | George Monbiot
No one is coming to save us. Mass civil disobedience is essential to force a political response, says Guardian columnist George Monbiot

George Monbiot

15, Apr, 2019 @5:00 AM

Article image
The Words Are Coming Now review – urgent responses to the #MeToo moment
10 vibrant short plays by writers including April De Angelis and Richard Bean offer multifaceted, thoughtful views on issues to do with sex and consent

Kate Wyver

26, Jan, 2018 @3:43 PM

Article image
The week in theatre: Constellations; Extinct review – the stars are aligned
The first two of four new casts work their magic differently in Nick Payne’s irresistible multiple realities play

Susannah Clapp

11, Jul, 2021 @9:30 AM

Article image
Can I Live? review – privilege, protest and the climate crisis
Fehinti Balogun’s show uses hip-hop and spoken word to explore the ways people of colour have been excluded from environmental activism

Arifa Akbar

14, Sep, 2021 @7:00 PM