Penny Chivas is the daughter of a prominent Australian environmental geoscientist. Going through his papers a couple of years ago, she found a graph that charted the rising global temperature and predicted a 3 degree increase by 2030. The paper was published in 1979. Why did the paper not get the attention it deserves, she muses? Or rather, why did we not – and do we not – pay attention to the writing on the wall?
Burnt Out is visual theatre that blends dance and the spoken word to explore some of the current manifestations of the changing climate. Chivas is from Australia though now based in Glasgow – the irony that she’s making a show about climate change when she herself has made repeated long-distance flights is not lost on her. She presents a potted history of forest fires in her homeland, assisted by a soundscape created by Paul Michael Henry. She reflects on the ongoing attempts to dig ever more coal out of the ground and observes the hideous irony that the air-conditioning units designed to extract the foul air from the forest fires from the atmosphere are fuelled by electricity generated by burning coal.
If you come to the show expecting 45 minutes of non-stop dance, you may feel somewhat short-changed. The piece features movement but in honour, perhaps, of the sombre subject matter, Chivas’ choreography is considered and contained. David Bowes’ lighting is masterful, caressing Chivas as she emerges from and returns to the dark with a stark clarity that matches her revelations.
But if you park your expectations and see Burnt Out instead as one artist’s attempt to make a difference as we head towards the world’s “last, best chance” to make a difference to our steadily warming climate at COP26 in November, it’s a thoughtful and plaintive production. The show closes with Chivas striking a match as the rest of the stage sinks into darkness. The flame flares – at once a moment of hope and a symptom of the problem – and finally dwindles to black. There aren’t any easy answers, Chivas suggests, but we can try.