As life on earth crashes headlong into the great extinction crisis, Extinction, a new play from Hannie Rayson, explores the stresses this is placing upon the lives and ethics of a group of humans close to the pointy end of the problem.
The focus is on the fate of the spotted quoll in Victoria. When a man hits what might possibly be the very last one in his car, on a forest road, four people’s lives are changed.
Andy the vet (James Grant) is a realist, and also an idealist, with a secret he’s keeping from his partner Piper (Diva Corey) a passionate zoologist visiting from the US.
Heather (Cate Feldmann) is trying to work out which species can be saved on a limited budget. Harry aka Mr Evil (Steven Browning) is a miner who also loves quolls and the forests in which they live. Can his money do some good here, or it is poisonous? And what role does sex play in it all?
Despite the serious subject matter, there are several laugh-aloud moments in this show, which unfolds in a striking set from James Guppy, with the image of a heart rate monitor winding around all that happens.
While never in your face, the sound in this show (Alex Benham) is a real highlight, giving a sense of the world beyond the stage (the sounds of the quoll and the rain beyond the surgery in the opening scene come to mind). There are also a number of musical interludes breaking up the show and providing emotional colour (piano and harp) with music written and performed by Ken Naughton.
Extinction also makes use of back-projected video from David Parker, bringing the various environments of the play into the theatre. The closing video is a real highlight.
Commissioned by New York’s Manhattan Theatre Club, this play, by the author of Hotel Sorrento, is directed here by Richard Vinycomb.
The whole stage is utilised with plenty of energy from the cast and imaginative use of props (such as the dying quoll wrapped in a bloody blanket) and the backlit love scene in a tent.
The differing physicalities and performance approaches of the individual cast members are counterpointed to good effect.
I must say that despite the contemporary theme, the play feels a little dated at times, such is the speed of the extinction crisis unfolding all around us. Elaborate set changes slow the momentum somewhat, and the bedroom farce aspects sometimes sit oddly with the conservation theme. But these are weighty and important issues to explore on stage, and all concerned need to be congratulated for doing so.
For a Northern Rivers audience concerned about big-picture issues as well as local ones, this is a show which definitely has its heart in the right place. Extinction has a strong message for anyone concerned about how to live ethically in a fast-changing world.
You can see it until 18 August at the Drill Hall Theatre in Mullumbimby.