Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

15/11/2017 - 25/11/2017

Production Details

by Mike Bartlett
Directed by Katy Maudlin

Presented by The Actors’ Program and Last Tapes Theatre Company


Following on from the spectacular success of Vernon God Little, The Actors’ Program and Last Tapes present a modern classic by acclaimed British playwright Mike Bartlett – a sprawling epic that takes us from 1968 to 2525, with a fresh bunch of actors ready to confront the world they are stepping into.

Earthquakes in London by Bartlett (Cock – winner Laurence Olivier Award, 2010) explores social breakdown in a world of overconsumption and environmental dismissiveness. “The theatrical equivalent of a rollercoaster… [which] delivers a rush of invention, humour, and raw emotion” (Daily Telegraph), Earthquakes travels from 1968 to 2525 following three sisters, each stumbling through life and love in a post baby-boom world as their father predicts global catastrophe. 

“we are, in fact, all doomed.”

Last Tapes Theatre Company have teamed up with this year’s Actors’ Program graduating actors and will bring award-winning playwright Mike Bartlett’s masterpiece to the Basement Theatre’s stage this November.

We’ve all heard the science: 2°C temperature rises, 400ppm CO2 . We are all f***ed. Nothing we can do will stop the rising tide of no-one giving a damn…

Co-producer Robin Kelly describes Earthquakes as theatre that “gives a shit. We want to lead by example. Not only are we engaged in the conversation, our production company, cast, and crew are going green.” The production will introduce a sustainability policy called ‘Lifecycle’ – a set of initiatives holding the creative sector accountable for environmental, cultural, and social sustainability. The Earthquakes team will work with Actors’ Equity and other theatre leaders to create a higher standard of sustainability awareness in the performing arts industry. 

Melbourne-based director Katy Maudlin will be flying in from Australia (carbonoffset, of course). Maudlin, currently on tenure with Melbourne’s Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre as their 2017 Graduate Director, has worked extensively around the globe including collaborating with Melbourne Theatre Company, Croatian National Theatre and The Royal Opera in London. 

Maudlin leads an all-female team of exciting new creative artists, including indie grunge musician Claire Duncan (‘i.e. crazy’), costume designer Hayley Douglas (WOW: World of Wearable Arts), Chloe Alderton, and Rachel Marlow (Filament Eleven 11).

Basement Theatre,
15-25 November 2017

Freya #1 Savannah Harris
Freya #2 Nadine Kemp
Jasmine #1 Salomé Grace Neely
Jasmine #2 Samantha Geraghty
Sarah #1 Fiona Armstrong
Sarah #2 Charlie Chapman
Colin Travis Graham
Robert Niwa Cording
Steve Henry Rolleston
Carter Ben Black
Tommi Ivanha Heynes-Viret
Peter/Emily Phoebe McKellar
Grace/Various Poppy Stowell
Dr Tim Harris/Businessman Jonathan James
Roy/Simon/Various George Maunsell
Mrs Andrews/Various Tessa Livingstone

Director Katy Maudlin
Set Design Chloe Alderton
Costume Design Hayley Douglas
Sound Design Claire Duncan
Lighting Design Rachel Marlow
Video Content Aj Bishop and Chloe Alderton
Movement Director Michele Hine
Stage Manager George Wallace
Voice Coach Kirstie O'Sullivan
Marketing Photography Sacha Stejko
Poster Design Sacha Stejko and George Wallace
Rehearsal Photography Adam Baines and Tatiana Harper
Executive Producer Michele Hine
Producer Last Tapes Theatre Company
Production Manager Robin Kelly
Production Team Robin Kelly, Cherie Moore, Rebekah Guy, Nicky Vella
TAP Administrator Jessi Williams
Technical Manager Ronnie Livingstone
Basement Programming Manager Gabrielle Vincent
Venue Liason Ahi Karunaharan

Theatre ,

2 hrs 30 mins, including interval

Melting pot of chaos, coherence

Review by Paul Simei-Barton 17th Nov 2017

The ability of theatre to engage with the most pressing issues of the day is impressively realised as Earthquakes in London delivers a vast, multi-stranded epic on global warming.

Acclaimed British playwright Mike Bartlett avoids the preachiness of overtly political theatre by focusing on the domestic dramas consuming a dysfunctional family. The three adult daughters of a famous climate scientist each respond in different ways to their father’s warnings of impending global devastation and his cold-hearted neglect of his parenting responsibilities.

The story is given a wildly chaotic structure as it swings across different time periods and intense personal encounters are interspersed with surreal intrusions of song and dance. [More]


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More human and moving than apocalyptic and frightening

Review by Leigh Sykes 16th Nov 2017

Earlier this week, 15,000 scientists put their signatures to a paper written as an open letter to humanity, detailing the global dangers we are facing. As reported by The Independent, a similar warning from the Union of Concerned Scientists 25 years ago was backed by 1,700 signatures, and detailed the same problems that we are still facing now. Since that initial letter, experts say the picture has become far, far worse than it was then, and that almost all the problems that were identified have simply been exacerbated. In fact, only one issue identified in 1992 has improved. The hole in the ozone layer has reduced, and this is put forward of an example of what can be done when enough people take action. 

The paper goes on to warn that Mankind is still facing the existential threat of runaway consumption of limited resources by a rapidly growing population. The authors also suggest that “scientists, media influencers and lay citizens” aren’t doing enough to fight against it. Disturbing figures in the paper show that in the past 25 years:

  • The amount of fresh water available per head of population worldwide has reduced by 26%.
  • The number of ocean “dead zones” – places where little can live because of pollution and oxygen starvation – has increased by 75%.
  • Nearly 300 million acres of forest have been lost, mostly to make way for agricultural land.
  • Global carbon emissions and average temperatures have shown continued significant increases.
  • Human population has risen by 35%.
  • Collectively the number of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds and fish in the world has fallen by 29%.

The letter warns that “Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory, and time is running out.”

Against the backdrop of this grim warning it is therefore extremely timely that The Actors’ Program and Last Tapes is presenting Earthquakes in London. By acclaimed British playwright Mike Bartlett, the play is a sprawling piece that spans a timescale from 1968 to 2525, tackling frightening ecological issues and making a plea for people to do something to turn us away from the apocalyptic course we are currently on. As detailed in the recent letter from scientists, these issues can seem too big, too insoluble and too scary to contemplate, but Bartlett gives us a way to approach them by addressing the impacts of these issues through a group of people. In humanising the enormous issues, the play gives us a starting point for change.

The story begins with scientist Robert (played engagingly by Niwa Sumich-Paul), nervously explaining his PhD work to wife-to-be Grace (Poppy Stowell) on their first date in 1968. From this point the play moves swiftly forwards and backwards through time, focusing on Robert’s daughters and the range of people in their lives, while also showing us glimpses of Robert selling out his work on the effects of carbon emissions to the fledgling airline industry.

Robert’s three daughters are living in a time where their father is now a climate change guru, warning that the planet is doomed if humanity continues on its present course. He is also estranged from his daughters, although their lives have still ended up reflecting their father’s preoccupations. Eldest daughter Sarah (Fiona Armstrong and Charlie Chapman) is the Minister for the Environment; youngest daughter Jasmine (Salome Grace Neely and Samantha Geraghty) is a wild-child university drop out, intent on living life to the full while trying to get her eldest sister’s attention, and middle daughter Freya (Savannah Harris and Nadine Kemp) is pregnant and terrified about bringing a child into a world that seems to be falling apart around her. 

Some of the most engaging scenes for me are those between Freya and Peter (a standout Phoebe McKellar), as Freya anxiously struggles to deal with her growing sense of despair for her child. McKellar’s performance is both funny and unsettling, drawing us into Peter’s quirky world which complements the uneasy and idiosyncratic world that Freya inhabits. The interactions between these two characters draw us into an environment reflective of the anxiety and mistrust about the global environment that builds as the play goes on.

I also enjoy Travis Graham as Sarah’s husband Colin, recently made redundant and struggling to figure out where he fits into Sarah’s high-powered world. Graham is convincingly down to earth and draws empathy from the audience as he charts Colin’s progress towards a change of perspective.

There are some lovely moments of whimsy throughout the play, one of my favourites being Freya’s trip to the park accompanied by the skilful synchronised ‘swimming’ of Ben Black, Jonathan James and George Maunsell. I also enjoy the stylish trio of Mums (Phoebe McKellar, Poppy Stowell and Tessa Livingston) that Freya encounters. Moments such as these show deft directorial touches by Katy Maudlin, as well as giving us opportunities to ponder what they tell us about Freya’s state of mind. 

This is a play that offers plenty of scope to a large cast, and the actors work well to accomplish changes of character, time and location smoothly. The ensemble work is solid and supports the unfolding individual storylines, although the sharing of the roles of the sisters seems born of necessity rather than inspiration, as I cannot identify a compelling point of difference in the different performances of the roles other than the need to accommodate more actors.

Ultimately the play offers us some intriguing perspectives on the potential outcomes of our continued consumption of resources, suggesting that the very human impacts of not reducing that consumption need to be considered with care. This is such a huge topic that there are a number of scenes that seem extraneous or that miss the mark, and make the running time seem longer than it actually is. It does feel like some of the story threads could be gathered together more quickly, especially as we approach the end of the play via a somewhat convoluted and farfetched scene set in 2525.

It does feel ironic that a play exploring such substantial material can feel flimsy at times, and that the message to reduce consumption is couched within a script that is huge and occasionally overblown. 

Perhaps the message that the play delivers most clearly is that we are all both perpetrators and victims of the seemingly inevitable move towards disaster that will affect us all as individuals. Just as Robert needs more than his work to save his own family, this play needs a little more substance in its vision of change if it is to inspire us to change our ways.

Through some engaging performances, the play offers a view of the future that is more human and moving than it is apocalyptic and frightening.


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