Premium climate emergency agitprop theater directors had the tree-destroying, multi-million pound company Amey voiced by a sex-doll
All photography by Becky Payne
It’s embarrassing, but the first time I had a visceral response to the incoming climate catastrophe was reading about the prominent social scientist Mayer Hillman, who has decided that it’s already too late. If climate crisis was a film, it feels like it should be the moment when the hero swoops in at the last possible moment to save the day. But it turns out the hero is absolutely bladdered, and we’r e going to watch the heroine (everyone we know and will ever exist) get mashed by the train after all.
In my defense, climate crisis has had a problem with branding. ‘Climate change’ is a wet title for the biggest extinction event in Earth’s history. The Guardian have already renamed it to ‘climate crisis’, as I have done here, though in my head it has adopted the cutier moniker, ‘our impending dark ages’.
Anyway, not everyone has struggled to find the look-and-feel for extinction though. Dopplegangster, a performance company and ‘cultural response to climate crisis’ are decidedly [neo-]punk about it. Dr Tom Payne, one of their directors, say they’re “trying to reframe climate crisis as something exciting, visceral”.
Back in the halcyon glen of 2015, Dopplegangster were “somehow” invited to perform for delegates at the COP21’s Solutions exhibition, which was partnered with Coca-Cola, Nissan, Renault, Engie. While protesters were getting hauled around by police and security services, Dopplegangster quickly wrote a show in a cafe that shared the messages of the enormous protest outside, which was so arduously being kept out of the ‘official’ event. “We went in there shouting and singing at the top of our lungs for 30 minutes”, says Tom. Will they get invited back? “Tobias and I are masters of disguise. Should we not be invited back we will find a way.”
We’re the last generation to be able to stop the shit-show before it destroys the place. It's a strange situation, as 'we' includes goof-balls along with government ministers and oil barons. Sometimes it seems more like 'they' can tackle climate crisis, and 'we' can switch from almond to soy milk and pray for a quick death. But nothing good will happen without a lot of shouting, and maybe some art that doesn’t pull punches.
And Dopplegangster don’t. In TREEFXXERS, they had the multi-million pound company Amey voiced by a sex-doll. The performance, drilled into - or perhaps chopped up - Sheffield City Council’s plans to fell thousands of mature roadside trees, in the face of huge local resistance.
Controversially, the fellings were part of a sealed, 25-year, £2.2bn PFI contract with multi-national company Amey, which the council refused to discuss. Unwilling to back down, the middle aged and elderly protesters were met with huge shows of police who were, it turns out, willing to wrongly arrest people on spurious charges.
The campaign continues, and a common phrase is, 'It's not just about the trees'. Like COP21, it's about who gets a say about our environment. TREEFXXXERS met the issue with an appreciation of how it scales up. And then exploded it into a brightly-lit, absurd vaudeville saga, with murderous hosts, dry ice, white balaclavas and Lynch meets Bob Fosse dance (delightfully choreographed with Sarah Lamb) to an organ-infused soundtrack by Jules Pascoe that clambers into your chest and stays there.
And it went further than agitprop. We visit a future where a half-man half-tree hero protects humanity from a Day of the Triffids arboreal apocalypse'. If Amey were a person, it's the sort of sexual fantasy you can imagine them describing to a therapist. After the maddeningly measured news reports and polite nature documentaries, this sardonicism, sarcasm and nihilism feels like a tall glass of [once iceberg] water.