Dundee Rep's new pop musical takes on the climate crisis
This Is A Love Story, Dundee Rep's new musical, imagines the Earth and Humanity as star-crossed lovers. We chat to writing team Jack Godfrey and Ellie Coote
We all know the score – humanity has been pretty bad for the planet. In fact, if the planet had a friend, they’d probably tell it to dump us. Earth was doing just fine before we came along – now it’s stuck in a bit of a toxic relationship. Its partner keeps promising to change, only to go back to the same old unhealthy patterns of behaviour.
But for years, the planet and humanity were pretty compatible. Earth nurtured the humans, and the humans were grateful. Earth really was the best version of itself in those halcyon days. It was a give and take relationship, not just take take take. If only things could go back to how they once were…
See the parallels? Composer and lyricist Jack Godfrey and dramaturg Ellie Coote had been “talking for a while about wanting to write something about the climate crisis and the planet”, when inspiration struck. “I’d been writing pop songs about my own life and my relationships,” explains Godfrey. “One day I was cycling through London and singing one of those songs in my head – a sad breakup song – and I was like, hold on a second: what if this is humanity singing to the Earth? So I messaged Ellie like, do you think this is a thing?”
“What you actually said was, 'is this a terrible idea or a good one?'” laughs Coote. “And I said no, it’s good, it’s exciting.”
The pair, who met working on a previous musical together, got to work constructing a ‘pop musical’ about the 200,000-year love story between Earth and Humanity. Before the pandemic they pitched the idea at the BEAM Musical Theatre showcase to a panel that included acclaimed producer Vicky Graham. She liked it. Now the show is premiering at Dundee Rep on 6 November during COP26. It's also the first show celebrating Dundee Rep's new status as a Climate Beacon – a Scotland-wide collaborative project between climate change or environmental organisations and arts, heritage and cultural organisations.
“What we really wanted to do was to get the audience to really sympathise and empathise with the Earth as a character,” says Godfrey of This Is A Love Story. “We’re trying to think of a new way to get people thinking about these big issues that are sometimes difficult for people to connect with emotionally. You can look at statistics and data and see what changes have happened over what number of years, but it's difficult to emotionally connect with that.”
The personification used in the show is a clever way to make the issue of climate change, usually so weighed down by political and scientific jargon, more engaging. “When you’re putting humanity and Earth in a relationship, it's holding quite a big metaphor,” notes Coote. “One of our earliest ideas was to use the moon as another kind of ‘person’ in the show that humanity goes and cheats on Earth with.” Grounding such a big concept down with a metaphor that feels so real and relatable was a breakthrough. “[We realised] we can be truthful to human history and truthful to [the metaphor of] the relationship at the same time.”
In today’s world, with young people at the forefront of the climate movement, it's perhaps no surprise that the next generation of creatives are writing romantic tragicomedies about the planet rather than each other. After all, a recent survey found that almost 60% of respondents under 25 reported feeling ‘extremely worried’ about the climate crisis, with 45% saying that negative feelings about it ‘impact their day-to-day lives.’ Who’s got time to fret about someone not texting back when the world is in flames? “Everyone talks a lot about it,” says Coote, when asked why she wanted to make a show about climate change.
“It’s the biggest worry for so many people, especially our generation and younger,” adds Godfrey. “Giving people new ways to think about it feels important.” When it came to her own eco-anxiety, Coote found creating This Is A Love Story was a cathartic experience. “Writing the show was quite helpful in terms of processing,” she says, “because the climate crisis is an emotional thing to think about.”
Crucially though, This Is A Love Story seems to avoid the sense of doom and gloom that characterises so much art that is made about climate change. Interestingly, the show is called this is a love story rather than this is not one. Putting it this way feels somehow gentler and more forgiving – it indicates that we humans are loving creatures at heart, who could still find our way back to the path we have strayed from.
“Finding a space to be optimistic in the climate crisis is so important,” says Coote. “That’s one thing we are trying to discover with this show – presenting something truthful and not shying away from the difficult parts of the relationship, but ultimately realising that we have to be optimistic in order to solve the crisis. The show is fun, it's pop, it's silly, and for me that makes the difficult moments hit harder. We never want to be preachy – when you’re thinking about a romantic relationship, that’s not relevant in a way. And we’re seeing [the crisis] completely through that lens.”
This Is A Love Story is at Dundee Rep on 6 Nov at 7.30pm, and streaming live online