As might be expected, the environment – specifically, the “environmental emergency” we currently face – is one of the more notable themes running through this year’s Fringe. This play, written by acclaimed Suffolk-born playwright Tallulah Brown, views the consequences of climate change through the eyes of two children – Margaret and Stanley – living on the Alaskan tundra, awaiting the overdue resettlement of their indigenous community by the American government, in order to avoid ever-rising water levels.
Effectively and affectingly conjured out of words and sounds
Margaret is almost 14, desperate to move to Anchorage and enjoy the comforts of city life; Stanley is younger, small for his age and “still a child playing imaginary games”. Cruelly, for reasons never quite explained, she’s convinced Stanley he’s responsible for the melting tundra, but she also has a plan: when spring comes, signalled by the annual arrival of great flocks of geese, they’ll both run away to the big city. Stanley has his doubts, but naturally enough he trusts her implicitly—she’s his big sister, after all. Deciding on a dry run, it’s clear he’s being led astray.
The two soon become lost in the forest, without the stars to guide them. Eventually, they do make it back to their mother and step-father, but there are consequences: Stanley most obviously loses his trust in his big sister, while it’s becomes clear to everyone that Margaret is no longer one of the tribe and will – must – leave. So it should be no surprise when the play shifts forward, to that “faraway” (Not!) future of 2025/26, when Stanley, now a young man, reluctantly visits his sister, effectively “exiled” from her family in a starving polar bear-infested city.
When The Birds Come envelops us in a world effectively and affectingly conjured out of words and sounds alone. The latter scene, significantly, isn’t simply an exercise in “I Told you so” for the characters, even though it presents a near-future scenario where “cities are unprepared” and “people are going to have to move”. Tallulah Brown’s point here is clear: climate change is real, and it will affect us all, sooner rather than later.