The main protagonist in Steve Waters’ two related but stand-alone plays is the melting, cracking, crashing ice of Antarctica. Meanwhile, far away in the UK, a bleak, stormy, four-person family drama plays out in On The Beach, and even stormier mayhem breaks out in Westminster in the political satire Resilience, which is both horrifying and hilarious. (Well, that’s politics!)

The plays first premiered in 2009. Since then climate change events and politics have moved on so fast that the scripts have been busily revised to set this latest version in a post pandemic, post Brexit Britain, with mentions of the likes of Dominic Cummings, Kwasi Kwarteng and the strange appeal of ruffled hair now getting in on the act.

While both plays focus on the personalities, problems, flaws, failures, ambitions and intense interactions of the characters, Nature and climate change science take the major roles, the playwright working closely with current Antarctic scientists to ensure his dramas of entertaining fiction and friction are based on sound information. To keep the science clear and vibrant and avoid being dry and teachy-preachy, a striking visual aid sits centre stage in the form of a glass table base that is, in fact, a tank. Into this water pours over a simple model coastline, graphically demonstrating the devastation of sea level rise, while technical hitches demonstrate that hosepipes are as unpredictable as climate events – but more amusingly so.

Though a perfectly rounded flow of characters, relationships and events may not be quite achieved, both plays are lively, entertaining, engaging and carry meaningful impact. Very welcome humour, especially in Resilience, keeps everything buoyant until the soggy, thunderous end and glimmers of hope do permeate the doom and chaos – if you squint hard.


In On The Beach, Robin Paxton is an angry, frustrated, neurotic old chap, racked with guilt since abandoning his career as a leading scientist in Antarctica in the 1970s to live an isolated family life in Norfolk. The fact that his early predictions of sea level rise, based on careful findings, were silenced has broken him down, voices like his being drowned out for decades by misinformation promulgated by climate change deniers with vested interests. Nowadays Robin obsessively tracks ominous weather events that support his theories. Exceptional storms brew outside and in when son Will (Joe Bannister), also an Antarctic climate scientist, comes home, sheepishly bringing news of a career change that will incense his father, plus an unexpected girlfriend, Surika, a civil servant, played with feisty aplomb by Kiran Landa, who will do likewise. In an engrossing drama, relationships, already strange and strained, worsen along with the weather, as long-suffering wife and loving mum, Jenny, tries to Canut the uncontrollable waters.

With little cheer on the crisis front, it’s a good thing there’s humour a-plenty along the road to destruction. Particularly magnificent comedy comes in Resilience from Paul Ready as Chris Casson, the ridiculous/realistic, ill informed, incompetent Minister for Climate Change. Reminiscent of the spoof political comedy W1A, his entire persona, delivery and superb comic timing bring repeated joy to all who enjoy laughing.

Climate advisor Colin Jenks’s fold up bike and sweaty cycling gear fit in there, too. Lumpen, laid-back Colin is played by Peter Forbes who is also his alienated, ill-used ex-colleague Robin in On The Beach. Geraldine Alexander who portrays Will’s mother and Robin’s selfless, supportive wife in On The Beach becomes the impressively smart, brisk, career-driven politician Tessa Fortnum, Minister for Resilience, in the other play. At Westminster, even as the storm surge strikes, pointless acronyms fly as quibbling, wrangling, crippling ineptitude, a lack of grasp on reality and inappropriate, self-seeking personal and political priorities result in extreme incompetence and chaotic bungling. Meanwhile, Will and Surika’s relationship sinks altogether as Will morphs into a clone of his frustrated, despairing, self-flagellating, broken father.

Wonderful in creating appropriate bleak spaces is Georgia Lowe’s simple, versatile set. Giant platform slabs of grey-white with an occasional swirl of mist evoke both Antarctic ice and the flat wilds of the glorious, life-sustaining Norfolk salt marshes, while serving, too, as the cold, anonymous corridors of power. Giles Thomas’s careful soundscapes maintain this atmosphere of bleak, wide spaces, isolation and calm-before-the-storm foreboding, using the lull of distant sea, wind and bird calls and the dramatic tension of flocks of flapping, fleeing wings, long, sustained notes, a cello, or voices that sing out melodic eeriness. The descending, black lighting rig has a shuddering effect, too, not to mention lightning bolts and pouring, drenching water.

As with D. Attenborough, the message in The Contingency Plan (or lack thereof) firmly asserts that the only wise option is to deal right now, while there’s time, with all that’s currently manageable: ignoring clanging wake-up alarms over and over again to resume our default snooze of complacency is a disastrous choice, leading only to panic, chaos and destruction – obviously. Yet how alluring and addictive is the human snooze of complacency!

It’s just as well, then, that a good laugh is to be had on the way to Doomsday – on stage at least. Engrossing, informative, funny and scary, this is compelling entertainment.

Eileen Caiger Gray

The show runs at the Crucible until November 5th.