"The Trials' by Dawn King, featuring our Graduating Acting Students

18 Sep 2023 | By Rob Keith
18 Sep 2023 | By Rob Keith


19th  to 22nd  of September

Little Theatre, Hiddingh Campus, UCT

Bookings: www.quicket.co.za

We are in a time when the increased frequency and intensity of heat waves, floods, devastating fires, tropical cyclones, and prolonged droughts across the planet are no longer meteorological anomalies.  Where the language of ‘climate change’ has been replaced by climate catastrophe, climate crisis and climate emergency.

It is common knowledge that the rapid rate of our warming world is caused by human activity, but while adult leaders across the globe continue to conference about green industrial hubs, net-zero strategies, reduced emissions targets, unlocking renewable energy resources, the younger leaders amongst us continue to hold governments and industries accountable for the lack of real action to mitigate the climate crisis. Led by climate movement activists such as Leah Namugerwa in Uganda, Jerome Foster II in the United States and Greta Thunberg in Sweeden, these formidable young people continue to take matters into their own hands and into the hands of their peers, to pressure world leaders to take responsibility for their inaction over the decades that climate change has supposedly been on their agendas.

Increasingly, young people across the world lead school strikes for climate movements, conduct large-scale tree planting projects, vocally advocate for environmental rights, and take up positions of influence in high level environmental justice advisory councils in their countries.  They also continue to loudly demonstrate how they have been failed and betrayed by the adults in their lives, who have often knowingly contributed to catastrophically damaging the planet that they will inherit.  It is in this context that Dawn King brings us The Trials, a climate justice thought experiment set in a future that is not far enough away to be dismissible.  In the world of King’s play, resources have been depleted, the air quality is horrendous, and children have lost their parents either to climate disasters or they have been found guilty in the regular make-shift court proceedings called The Trials.  These trials are held in once-purpose built buildings that have been re-appropriated in order to hold the adults in this world accountable for their contributions to the climate catastrophe. After each of their defence statements, 12 young people argue, debate and fight amongst themselves about whether they are guilty or not, and through these heated and highly pressured discussions, reveal their own individual stories of loss.

In our production, this jury is made up of the 12 graduating theatre students at the Centre for Theatre Dance and Performance Studies. The set, costume and props have been designed by the graduating scenography class and several of the final year theatre makers are on the production team.  As a collective, we have worked hard to accept the challenge of the play’s Sustainability Statement, which reads:

Please take positive action against the environmental harm caused by the rehearsal and production of this play. We have imagined our most familiar and accessible environment, the theatre as one of these re-purposed venues of The Trials of King’s dystopic near future and limited our purchasing of new items for the production as far as possible, choosing rather to reuse and repurpose. 

This highly contemporary play is sobering and confronting.  It lays bare the consequences of our lifestyles and daily decisions, on the planet that we are leaving to our youth and emboldens that same youth to continue to boldly hold us to account.

Here are a few local Climate Justice Resources:

Africa Climate Summit 2023

African Climate Alliance

Imagining Otherwise – Tshisimani Arts Activism Tool Kit

Just Us and The Climate – podcast

Our Burning Planet article by Daily Maverick

About the CTDPS:

The Centre for Theatre, Dance & Performance Studies (CTDPS) at the University of Cape Town (UCT) focusses on teaching Dance and Theatre performance as forms of critical inquiry, creative expression, pedagogy and public engagement. We view performance as a public platform for contemporary ideas, allowing us to examine and question the fundamental concerns of our times in a space that is at once critical, emotional, and collaborative.

Read more here: https://humanities.uct.ac.za/centre-ctdps/about-centre-theatre-dance-performance-studies