Kirsten E. Shepherd-Barr and Hannah Simpson

Published On


Page Range

pp. 323–352


  • English

12. Displacing the Human

Representing Ecological Crisis on Stage

Our collective consciousness lacks ready visual iconography for the elements of the climate crisis that extend beyond or below our own human-centred scale: the microzoa that power our ecosystems, or colossal global, atmospheric and multi-century environmental changes. Theatre’s engagement with climate change has tended to remain human-scaled and human-centred: as a medium which traditionally relies on the human body as its main referent, theatre has inevitably inclined towards the anthropocentric. Might there be a theatrical representation of the vast macro and minute micro scale of global climate change, atmospheric pollution, and mass species extinction? One which, in doing so, offers the new stage images and new scales of dramatic representation to help us make the imaginative leap into broader, less anthropocentric consideration of the climate change? In this chapter, we explore some of the efforts to wrestle with innovative stage images and scales that theatre-makers have produced in their creative endeavours to capture and convey the current ecological crisis, and offer some new theoretical models for thinking about the theatre’s representations of climate change. Examining the ‘dramatised lectures’ of Stephen Emmott, Bruno Latour, Chris Rapley and Duncan Macmillan, the site-specific and outdoor work of Carole Kim, Extinction Rebellion and Deke Weaver, and a range of recent West End and fringe theatre plays including Steve Waters’s The Contingency Plan, Ella Hickson’s Oil, Mike Bartlett’s Earthquakes in London, Punctuate! Theatre’s Bears and Andrew Bovell’s When the Rain Stops Falling, we argue that theatre’s unique functioning in a range of spatial and temporal dimensions and sensory modes offers rich potential for representations of climate change that might move us into a more-than-human scope of thought.


Kirsten E. Shepherd-Barr