Deep in the deserts of New Mexico, nature created Yucca Mountain. And deep inside Yucca Mountain, humankind plans to plant something unfathomably deadly: nuclear waste, a substance we’ve created but can’t destroy, still powerful enough to kill a human 10,000 years from now. To deter future civilizations from digging to their doom, we hope to leave a message – a marker, a monument, a warning to “please leave”. This show is about that message, and a whole lot else besides.
We’re met by five performers in boilersuits and clumpy boots, standing in line inside a giant white cube. They might be waste engineers, or scientists, or an avant-garde kind of artist; they’ve brought a video camera, microphones, and – you won’t be expecting this next bit – a karaoke machine. What follows is creative, surprising, informative and thoughtful, a theatrical investigation of the whole concept of a “message” and of our need to connect not just with those in front of us, but with the future and our past.
Some scenes are straightforward: a remembered childhood walk, an imagined archaeological dig a thousand years from now. Others are beautifully abstract, like when they evoke the spirit of a Geiger counter by dragging microphones across the floor. But the best, perhaps, are extended metaphors. Over time, the markers on the mountain will fade, their urgent warning will grow harder to understand; their visualisation of that fact is exceptionally clever, leveraging the captions which, as well as serving audience members who need them, are an integrated part of the experience for hearing people too.
This eclectic mix of images is intriguing and stimulating, but it all feels very random – until, suddenly, it doesn’t. There’s a theme to it all, a truth we find repulsive, buried deep in our subconscious like the waste inside its mountain. It’s to do with impermanence, the fact that everything we know will one day be dust: it speaks to the climate emergency, for sure, but also to the simple passage of each and every moment. It evokes a bittersweet transience, one that has always been with us and always will.
So did this show leave me with a message? Not exactly; at least, not an actionable one. But it did shine a spotlight on a feeling, something I’ve always been aware of but never quite seen. What’s more, it’s done with humour – and a spirit of inventiveness that makes my Fringe-loving heart sing. My message to these talented artists: please come back.