“Earthquakes in London,” written in 2010 by British playwright Mike Bartlett, is a pro-divestment family drama that stretches from 50 years in the past to 500 years in the future. The show is set in London, where there may or may not be earthquakes. Its main focus is the story of three sisters and their related husbands/boyfriends/suitors/underlings as their lives and the world fall apart at the same time. It features unstable romantic relationships, complex ethical dilemmas, political commentary and what might be time travel though, as usual, it’s a bit unclear.
It is a fitting choice of subject matter for an audience that is likely interested in a variety of difficult issues and that is willing to take them all on at once. Not all of the writing is great, and it runs all over the place a little bit, but often the dialogue is poignant and even funny. Though the characters usually can’t help but turn into clichés (condescending corporate conservatives and childless, fun-averse female public servants), they are still interesting enough. The show is highly polemicized but maybe in a just-for-fun way, though as usual, it’s a bit unclear.
That is not exactly an endorsement, but it is also not exactly relevant. It is maybe better, in a preview of a production, to consider the production itself. In the case of “Earthquakes of London,” being performed this weekend by the theater department’s Senior Company, the quality of the production was clear even three days before opening. At a runthrough on Tuesday, it appeared that the interesting staging and strong performance would carry the show through its run the coming weekend.
Director Patrick Ross ’15 arranges the show in a clever way on stage. Multiple scenes run simultaneously, in parallel and together. There is a scene, for example, in which one character puts on music while another character is at a party where the music is playing. The two instances overlap each other smoothly. There is constantly important action on stage, whether or not it involves speaking lines or main stage lights, and Ross allows the audience to take all of it in at once. “Earthquakes in London” makes heavy use of multimedia as well, ranging from sound clips (most notably, Zager and Evans’ “The Year 2525”), visual stimulus (nature footage, a projected computer monitor as it is being used to word-process and Google search) and a short animated film by students Iris Fang ’15 and Michael Piazza ’17. It is extremely technically impressive, likely due in no small part to the show’s sound, lighting, media and other technical staff.
However, this does provide for a lot of “stuff” on stage at once at a given time, likely to reflect the chaos in the script more powerfully than with just words. The main challenge presented by this scenario is with the venue, as the Frear Theater has only a few rows of seats and not much room for action on the chunk of floor that serves as a stage. Performers appear massive by way of their proximity. Everything is black and carries an aura of peeling paint. The sealed-off, tucked-away theater feels kind of like a closet, especially given the amount of activity on stage at a given time.
The number of minor characters would lead one to believe it was written for a big cast, though only a handful of seniors are involved in this performance. Danica Harvey ’15, for instance, plays four roles plus ensemble parts not mentioned in the program. A couple of others (Jameson Lisak ’15 and Sasha Rojavin ’15) juggle multiple significant parts, yet they all manage it, and with very little bleeding of traits or mannerisms between characters.
Those who are given just one principal role demonstrate their commitment and focus just as well, managing to look as cool in their consumption of tobacco and alcohol as they look uncool in their abstinence. The characters may be written to be trite, but they are performed to be captivating. The relationship between the characters of Nathan Siegel ’15 and Anita Castillo-Halvorssen ’15, for example, is a classic juxtaposition of an out-of-touch, weak older person and a rebellious, passionate-if-misguided teenager, to which the actors offer a welcome personal touch.
While the source material may not showcase the best in the British dramatic tradition, the subject matter is unsettlingly relevant to any self-respecting Swarthmore student’s interests. There is real talent visible in the direction and performance as well as the technical makeup of the show.
“Earthquakes in London” opens Friday, December 5 at 7 p.m. in LPAC.