Donmar Warehouse, London – until 27th August 2022
Reviewed by Celia Armand Smith
With the heatwaves and downpours that London has been experiencing, the dystopian near future in which The Trials is set doesn’t seem so far off. Dawn King’s play uses a jury of tween and teenagers to decide the fate of the dinosaurs (grown ups) who have retroactively exceeded carbon limits and economic barriers.
As a Donmar Local production, many of the young company are making their professional debuts, holding their own alongside the likes of Nigel Lindsay, Lucy Cohu, and Sharon Small who play the adult defendants on trial. Lindsay, Cohu and Small all deliver powerful monologues explaining their parts in the climate crisis, behaviours that included eating meat, owning two cars (even if one of them is electric), simply not trying hard enough to combat climate change, and working for an oil company. The jury has to discuss the individual cases and decide if they are guilty of past crimes. A decision which seems too big for anyone, and yet these kids are articulate having faced loss and illness themselves in recent times due to climate change. They butt heads over the ethical, economical, and emotional arguments for and against what they are doing and what the defendants have done. A climate change based moral maze.
The young voices were led by a particularly strong Honor Kneafsey playing Ren, the elected head juror who faces a heart-wrenching decision. Another standout was Francis Dourado as Mohammad, the only critic of the system in which they find themselves, and Charlie Reid as Tomaz, a restless teen who is overheating and wants fresh air and to taste bacon again. The young cast work well together and find a good rhythm, dancing around each other; arguing, coughing, reminiscing about snow.
The lighting, sound design, and use of video by Jal Morjaria, Xana, and Nina Dunn respectively, during the testimonies brings the play together and helps add tension. The use of a simple set with a backdrop made of piled up benches and chairs acted like a climbing frame, and was a reminder that these were kids and not adult jurors sitting in a courtroom.
At the end, I walked away thinking about my own impact on the earth and I am simultaneously filled with a sense of impending doom and hope for the future. The Trials creates a space to pause and reflect, and to be accountable for our own actions towards halting the climate crisis.