Ginger Hibiscus | Ginger Hibiscus | Review: New Atlantis at the Crystal
Ginger Hibiscus | Review: New Atlantis at the Crystal
Ginger Hibiscus | Review: New Atlantis at the Crystal
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23 Jan REVIEW: New Atlantis at The Crystal

London, 2050. The United Nations is no more. It’s been replaced by New Atlantis, an international collaboration tasked with managing the few natural resources left on an Earth bled almost to death by the people living off it. What was the United States is now largely desert, whole cities swallowed up by rising sea levels, causing extraordinary migration towards the vastly more habitable poles. As the tectonics of power shift outside, inside New Atlantis, a new Secretary-General needs to be elected, but the question is, who should it be? As an agent of New Atlantis you’re invited to HQ at The Crystal, where you – and the other agents – will be given the chance to discover the science being pursued, the different approaches being proposed by the candidates, and ultimately vote for a successor.

This vision of the future is indisputably a dramatic image, but it could be a glimpse into the future. Bringing us back to 2015, 27 years ago, NASA’s Dr James Hansen reported to the US Senate that NASA was 99% certain rising global temperatures were caused by the accumulation of certain gasses in the atmosphere, resulting from the burning of fossil fuels. In the years since, scientists across the globe have come out in near-unanimous agreement, even if this week, in a series of symbolic votes the US Senate accepted that global warming “is not a hoax,” but stopped short of officially recognising that human activity is to blame. But outside Washington, scientists have long since moved onto more practical problems – like if and how this can be stopped – even reversed – and if not, what changes will we be forced to make to the way we live, and how do can we cope with that? These are the questions that New Atlantis seeks to address, as we’re flung into an era where global warming is historical observation and pervasive phenomenon rather than future prediction and extrapolation.

Let’s be clear. New Atlantis is not a “play”. It’s not “performed” to you in a theatre, and it isn’t what you’d usually expect from immersive theatre. But it is immersive. And it is certainly theatrical. But it’s also a whole lot more. It’s a chance to really engage in the scientific progress that’s being made today, from biofuels to mineral extraction to innovative data collection techniques. You’re invited to walk around the Crystal and meet real topic experts from established institutes like UCL, to talk to them and understand the issues they’re studying. Equally you’re invited to talk to the “politicians” of New Atlantis and debate rival policies for the upcoming vote. Ultimately, it’s up to you which questions you ask, whether you’re more interested in solving the problems of this futuristic world, or those in the observable world.

Accordingly, everyone who goes to New Atlantis will have a subtly different experience. For me as well as learning an unreasonable amount in such a short period of time, I was surprised by the level of introspection that the experience provoked, particularly around my own voting habits and political beliefs. Having to decide which way to vote, based on nothing more than the information presented in those two hours, without years of media campaigns to obscure your vision of each party, is a strange thing. And even more so if you look at the candidates as metaphors for three very different political regimes.

Whilst it’s exciting and liberating to explore these ideas autonomously, it does put the onus on every person attending to make the most of it. It would be all too possible to almost sleepwalk around, observing but not engaging, just as many claim humans are doing right now with global warming. Without truly engaging, you can’t get the best of it, so go armed with inquisitive mind (and voice!) as well as comfortable shoes. With this autonomy there’s also a risk of letting time get away from you and not getting around all the rooms; a brochure to show the different areas would be a helpful addition, preventing people from rushing about at the last minute, and enabling “agents” to plan their time more effectively.

It’s hard to agree that New Atlantis should be advertised as theatre; it’s not. But housed in one of the most sustainable buildings in the world, LAStheatre have created an experience with some serious scientific credentials. With a couple of lovely theatrical moments, climate change has never felt so relevant, or so engaging.

Dates: Monday 19th – Sunday 25th January 2015

Location: The Crystal, E16 1GB


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