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Catherine Love

Estrangement in the Anthropocene: Dramaturgical strategies for an age of ecological breakdown

It has been widely acknowledged that the Anthropocene and its attendant phenomena of global warming, ecological destruction and biodiversity loss involve a startling confrontation with the strangeness and complexity of our rapidly altering environment. Amitav Ghosh proposes the uncanny as a way of articulating our experience of the Anthropocene, suggesting that this uncanniness ‘lies precisely in the fact that in these encounters we recognize something we had turned away from’ (2016: 30) – that is, the more-than-human world that we can no longer treat as an unchanging backdrop to the drama of human lives.

My paper explores how contemporary dramaturgical strategies might both represent the inherent strangeness of this new epoch and make strange the habitual modes of thinking that have brought us to the brink of climate catastrophe. I will consider the Anthropocene as what Timothy Morton calls a ‘hyperobject’, a term coined ‘to refer to things that are massively distributed in time and space relative to humans’ (2013: 1). The vastness and complexity of the many interconnected processes currently affecting the planet, not to mention the extended timescales involved, are impossible to fully conceive. Furthermore, as Timothy Clark has discussed, the hugely expanded scale of ecological thinking can lead to a ‘derangement of meaning’ (2015: 66), as formerly simple actions or representations have potentially far-reaching and unintended consequences.

I will ask whether a post-Brechtian ‘making strange’ in contemporary theatre might allow us to at least partially glimpse the never-fully-knowable reality of the Anthropocene and simultaneously jolt us out of destructive ways of thinking about the planet and humans’ place on it. To begin considering these questions, my paper will compare the dramaturgical strategies deployed in Mike Bartlett’s play Earthquakes in London (2010), directed by Rupert Goold, and in Katie Mitchell’s production of Duncan Macmillan’s Lungs (2013).

Catherine Love recently completed her PhD at Royal Holloway, which investigated the relationship between text and performance in contemporary English theatre. She has published journal articles in Contemporary Theatre Review and Theatre Notebook and is the author of a volume on Tim Crouch’s An Oak Tree in Routledge’s Fourth Wall series. She also works as a freelance arts journalist, writing for publications including the Guardian, The Stage and Exeunt.