Review by Daz Gale
A hot topic is the subject of a brand new play at Donmar Warehouse at the moment… literally. The Trials is set in the not too distant future where the threat of climate change has now led to serious change… albeit too late. In The Trials, the older generation are put on trial by a jury made up of 12 members of the younger generation – chosen as they are the worst affected by these actions. With such a heavy subject that feels uncomfortably fresh given the current climate, could anything stop this from being a disaster?
Slight disclaimer – The Trials ends with the message “No spoilers”. I always try to write reviews as spoiler free as possible as I believe a review should encourage people to see a show without actually giving much away in the way of plot. But with this one, I’m going to be even more careful. I wouldn’t want to be put on trial for breaking those rules!
Written by Dawn King, The Trials received its world premiere at the Düsseldorfer last year, where it was a finalist for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize. For its London debut, it is (perhaps fittingly) playing a limited run of just two weeks – unintentionally reflecting the theme of time running out regarding climate change.
The narrative of The Trials sees 12 jurors study three individual cases from adults who are on trial for their actions regarding climate change and their own carbon footprint. They have to deliberate the merits of each case and whether each adult is guilty or not guilty. This leads to heated interactions between the 12 young jurors and raises some interesting questions on how you can determine somebody’s guilt and if you could ever judge someone fairly without your own bias playing a factor.
While the 12 jurors are made up of a young and upcoming cast, you may recognise two of them from the recent TV sensation Heartstopper (I binged it in one day and have zero regrets). Joe Locke is one of the standouts in the cast as the seemingly angry Noah whose character unfolds throughout the play. One of the most fleshed out characters in the piece, he is captivating to watch and proves once again why he is one of the most exciting young names in acting at the moment, even if this is remarkably his professional stage debut. While his Heartstopper William Gao takes a back seat initially, he gets his own moment to shine later on in the play with a sweet and innocent presence bringing light to some of the darker moments in the play.
The remaining 10 young jurors all get their own moments to shine, reflecting polar opposite personalities leading to some intense but always captivating interactions. All fantastic in their own right, one notable performance would be Charlie Reid who is mesmerising in his turn as Tomaz, crawling around the stage and all the equipment that adorns it, completely oblivious to his fellow jurors and their own needs. Loud and brash, he provides some of the most comic moments. Jowana El-Daouk is fantastically domineering as the opinionated Gabi, Meréana Tomlinson is a delight as Kako while Honor Kneafsey is an absolute standout in an emotionally inspired turn as Ren.
The three adults playing the defendants are Nigel Lindsay, Lucy Cohu and Sharon Small. All contrasting in their approach, they happily take a back seat during their fairly limited stage time and let the younger cast members shine – after all, this is a play where the youth are front and centre in the world. That said, the three of them are remarkable in their brief stage time, with Sharon Small in particular a highlight giving her own defence.
The biggest star of The Trials is the writing in itself. Incredibly powerful and thought provoking, Dawn King manages to get the messages of climate change and its repercussions across in a way that doesn’t come across as preachy but rather a way that makes you leave there thinking about your own actions and what the future might look like. One of the most memorable lines states “If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention”. Clever and authentic dialogue with blunt and brutal interactions between the varying characters make this a play that captures your attention for the entirety of its 95 minutes during the course of one act. Very intelligent in its approach and feeling progressive, the mix of humorous lines and darker tones make the writing of The Trials sensational, and at times a complete heartstopper (I'll get my coat).
Brilliantly directed by Natalie Abrahami, the set design from Georgia Lowe uses a minimalistic but highly effective approach. Set almost entirely in the jurors meeting room with nothing more than tables and chairs, this can prove versatile in setting with a mountain of abandoned chairs at the back of the stage providing scope for characters to scale, not to mention a surprising trick towards the shows climax. A fantastic use of video design from Nina Dunn creates a jarring involuntary response while the clever use of lighting from Jai Morjaria perfectly complements the set. Use of sound from Xana and some other tricks I won’t spoil create a truly atmospheric approach which can feel almost immersive in their approach, leading you to believe you are in the room with the jurors and truly breaking down the walls between actor and audience.
The Trials may be a bit too close to home for some, with the effects of climate change really starting to show. However, the progressive writing is incredibly powerful and stays with you long after you have left the theatre. The predominantly young cast are awe-inspiring, giving authentic and commanding performances that befits the fantastic writing. All in all, The Trials is a timely but terrific piece of theatre. Though as it’s not going to be here for long, try to catch it before it’s too late.
The Trials plays at Donmar Warehouse until August 27th. Tickets from donmarwarehouse.com
Photos by Helen Murray