Life & Culture

The Trials Theatre review: Beware the angry teens judging selfish adults

Dawn King’s play imagines how the very young may one day become judge and jury of the 'dinosaurs' who chose to pollute the planet


THE TRIALS by Dawn King ; Production; Directed by Natalie Abrahami ; Set & Costume Design by Georgia Lowe ; Lighting Design by Jai Morjaria ; Sound Design and composure: Xana ; Movement Director: Anna Morrissey ; Movement Director: Aaron Parsons ; Video Designer: Nina Dunn ; Voice Coach: Emma Woodvine ; Casting Director: Anna Cooper CDG for Donmar Warehouse ; Associate Director: Joseph Hancock ; Donmar Warehouse ; London UK ; 12th August 2022 ; Credit and copyright: Helen Murray

The Trials
Donmar Warehouse | ★★★✩✩

The idea that children might one day be charged with judging the generations who came before them has more than a whiff of Khmer Rouge and Cultural Revolution about it.

Yet this is the premise of Dawn King’s dystopic vision of the future. And with much of the planet burning as a result of the decisions made by today’s grown-ups, who is to say it isn’t heading our way?

Produced as part of the Donmar Local outreach project involving over 1300 children in the casting process, King’s play imagines how the very young may one day become judge and jury of the “dinosaurs” who chose to pollute the planet instead of protecting it.

Set in a near future in which the air is toxic , those found guilty will be executed, which has the added benefit of reducing demand on diminishing resources. So huge is the number of those who these teenage juries must try, each case is only allocated 15 minutes of deliberation after each defendant’s statement of mitigation.

Nigel Lindsay’s former advertising exec pleads that he broke no laws at the time his “crimes” were committed. His life was defined by “work” and “family”, he pleads. Yes it was a life of exotic holidays and two cars, and true, his three children were privately educated. But what parent doesn’t strive to give their children the best and did the skiing trips not also result in a better appreciation of the world’s natural beauty?

Being a flawed human is no mitigation in the minds of this mostly angry teenage jury. The defendant’s polluting life choices may not have been illegal at the time, but they were made after what has been retrospectively deemed as “the critical period”, after which it can be reasonably said that everyone was aware of the result that their actions or inactions had on the planet.

Among the teenage jurors only Mohammed (Francis Dourado, who like most of the young actors here is making his professional theatre debut, reasons that compassion should be a consideration in a process that more often than not ends in death, which here has the euphemism of euthanasia.

Under Natalie Abrahami’s direction this impressive young cast convey — and no doubt in real life actually feel — the anger and confusion that goes with being the progeny of grown-ups who screwed up the planet. But frustratingly King’s script is brimful of assumptions that in the worst sense of the word are what might be described as young.

Take the following argument: There is nothing wrong in judging crimes that were not illegal at the time they were committed, the young jurors conclude. After all isn’t that what the Nuremberg Trials did?

The point goes largely unchallenged here and suggests that today’s climate activism has embraced the moral equivalence that says intentional mass murder and the unintended effects of selfish lifestyles are as bad as each other.

Equally unexplored is the theme highlighted by the second defendant, a playwright (Lucy Cohu) whose mitigating speech cites that her choices were forced on her by the “capitalist system” in which she lives.

There is no mention that the polluted air outside the deliberation room is almost certainly caused as much by China’s communist system as it is by the West. Who is trying those adults?

So yes, if you are not a childless and car-less vegan you may leave the theatre chastened by the choices you have made. But the best campaigning plays reflect the complexity of the world. This sounds the alarm loud and clear, but too simplistically.

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