I spent some time over in London again recently. Amongst my antics I had the privilege, and it most definitely was that, of watching The Trials by Dawn King at the Donmar Warehouse in Covent Garden. The production’s UK premiere lasting just over two weeks with a cast of fifteen and set consisting, almost entirely, of just three tables and some chairs. Whilst being fairly climate conscious, I stumbled across the play almost by accident after my sister and I went full queer at seeing Heartstopper’s Joe Locke and William Gao on the cast list. I’m glad I did.
It brought something back to the forefront of my mind that I’ve always appreciated, but many still don’t. The creative arts aren’t merely something to keep you entertained. They are fundamental in creating shared experiences, developing ideas and progressing society. This production demonstrates this perfectly, and in a beautifully minimalist way.
When confronted with the prospect of a play where a jury of young people judge adults for their role in climate catastrophe, its easy to expect the usual eco-warrior tirade about how our parents have destroyed the world and can never be forgiven. Don’t get me wrong, the text dishes out an abundance of that with some naughty words thrown in for good measure, but its power lies in its ability to aim for a deliver the precise opposite.
The overarching question knitted throughout the dystopian drama is simple, what are we looking for? Justice or outright revenge? Through Dawn’s quality storytelling, the show’s presentation and the powerful cast, a poignant message of intergenerational conflict plays out in front of an audience made up of those very generations. For me, the message came across loud and clear. Young people have found themselves in a state of existential crisis through no fault of their own, but revenge is no solution and a belief that everyone that came before us actively harmed us is too simple. Forgiveness, compassion and unity are the only viable solution.
The arts have an ability to do what little else can. Inform, entertain, encourage, provoke and unite all at the same time. You can gather an audience, consisting of all sides of an issue, and they can come away with newfound perspectives and insights on each other. Bridging divides, developing ideas and uniting people in the face of problems that normally splinter us into warring factions. The arts can shape people, shape arguments and shape the evolution of society itself.
We’d do well to do everything we can, as a country, to encourage and develop the arts and to treat them as the important and powerful mediums for change that they are. The unpredictable nature of careers in the arts can lead to some banishing their creativity and passion in favour of a more stable path, we need this to change. As a tool for bringing people together and developing ideas for the future, you can’t get much better than this.
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