A self-proclaimed work in progress, How To Save a Rock With a Circle (HTSARWAC) cleverly explores our relationship with climate change by imagining our not too distant future.
The play starts off with a quick whizz through the history of the universe from the Big Bang Theory to the modern day and then propels us forward into the year 2026, where we are living in a sort of climate apocalypse. Leading this journey are four characters who are on a mission to save the last polar bear, Ivan, but as the play evolves, this production (humorously) explores and questions so much more than that.
Pigfoot Theatre is no doubt used to staging productions in ‘unconventional’ spaces, having previously staged a production in St Catherine’s boathouse by the river, and a striking feature of this production is the way in which theatrical space is used and questioned. The play’s venue is Makespace Oxford, a North Oxford building owned by Wadham College, which turns empty and unused buildings into affordable spaces to hire for environmental and social justice organisations. The ethos of this space definitely centres both the sense of community and the need for collective action that this production calls for throughout the play.
The production is impressively entirely carbon neutral – lights are powered by solar and bike-power, all sound is created live, all materials recycled or recyclable, and any unavoidable costs off-set. With everything stripped back in this way, I was reminded of all the things that we take for granted, especially in a world where everything is available at our fingertips. The space is also strewn with empty tins and cans, and walking to my seat I was visually reminded of the waste we contribute daily.
Devised in the rehearsal room and actively seeking feedback after each show, it is clear that collaboration is at the heart of this production. The four actors take turns playing different characters (and cycling on a bike which powers the lights) but also essentially ‘play’ themselves, telling anecdotes and exploring their own relationship with the environment. These stories are incredibly relatable as we hear characters talk about their failed attempts to consistently use a Keep Cup or the multiple ‘Bags for Life’ they own.
A key aspect of this play is its use of audience participation, with the cast regularly taking straw polls throughout. I admit, I am always a bit wary of audience participation as it can often feel gimmicky. But with HRSARWAC, it seems to be an integral part of this production, as not only does it challenge the role of the audience by forcing us to actively engage but also emphasises the collective role and responsibility that we all have for our shared home.
This is powerfully explored in a scene in a London airport, where the four friends are trying to get on a flight to Iceland, urgently trying to reach Ivan. Unfortunately for them, they run into a wall of silent protestors who block their way to the airport. The actors then attempt to push through the audience, and it becomes clear that the audience has become this group of protestors. This is just the beginning of our involvement, as in a later scene we are even encouraged to ‘march’ alongside them.
I noticed members of the audience giving up on stamping and making noise quite early on (myself included) and I couldn’t help but wonder if this says something on a wider scale about the general attitude of complacency amongst young people. This atmosphere of complacency is also explored through the play’s use of contradictions – from a character who loves to watch Blue Planet but is in the air-conditioning business, to one of the characters craving a Costa spiced pumpkin latte whilst on a march. These contradictions worked to subtly remind us that nobody is perfect, and it requires a conscious effort to affect change.
The end of the play comes full circle by reminding us of the gift of nature, as well as the gift of being on this Earth. One may think that because of the subject matter HRSARWAC would be all doom and gloom, or at the very least didactic, but leaving the play and looking onto the canal, I was left with a feeling of optimism that certainly brightened up my fifth week.