Non-stop movement, theatrical flair, dazzling visual pyrotechnics, imaginative design and music -- it must be Rupert Goold. Gooldian, like Shakespearean or Brechtian, should now become standard theatrical shorthand for a high-octane style of direction which either hits the bullseye (Enron) or misses its target by a mile. The risk in being Gooldian is that the original play gets lost under the razzmatazz, or gets distorted in the rehearsal process.
Earthquakes in London is by Mike Bartlett, one of the sharpest dramatists around, linking a family story of three sisters and a cruel absent father (shades of King Lear) with the ever-present fear of global catastrophe and climate change. Don't go to this play expecting tedious journalistic lessons about climate change; it's not that sort of play. There are one or two moments of self-indulgent directorial pantomime, but you'll never be bored. There are loose ends left hanging in the family story, which is chopped up into a myriad of short scenes, but the overwhelming theatricality of the experience carries the show forward, at least until the final half-hour. Miriam Buether has transformed the Cottesloe into an exciting space with an S-shaped orange platform whose colour and shape made me think I was in a Yo! Sushi restaurant. Half the audience stands in the pit, looking up at the actors, and the rest look down from the galleries on each side. At either end there's a shallow rectangular box, a kind of miniature proscenium stage, similar to the one Buether employed to great effect in her design for the final act of The Wonderful World of Dissocia. I was sitting above the action and looking down from the gallery, but I would love to see the show again from pit level with my eyes at the level of the actors' feet. From any position, the design is a spectacular success.
Bartlett's play explores the conflict between environmental and human values; it asks whether, with an environmental disaster just around the corner, we can really go on behaving as before, producing new generations of children whose lives may not be worth living. Pregnant Freya, the middle sister of the three (Anna Madeley) roams the streets in turmoil because she doesn't want her baby to be born; eventually we discover her disturbed state of mind is linked to something her estranged father Robert (Bill Paterson) has said to her. Robert is an atmospheric scientist with a curmudgeonly personality who seems to be partially modelled on James Lovelock. The conversation between Robert and Freya's husband Steve (Geoffrey Streatfeild) is one of the few scenes where the environmental arguments get a chance to breathe. Bartlett's script, much rewritten in development and rehearsals with the director's Headlong company, links up the environmental and the personal in subtle ways, avoiding the tedious cliches of issue-based and documentary drama. The women have all the best scenes, with the men bouncing off them. Madely is terrific as the confused Freya, as are Lia Williams as her older sister Sarah, a Lib Dem cabinet minister, and Jessica Raine as the punky, aggressive younger sister Jasmine. The canvas is sometimes stretched too far for plausibility, as when Sarah brings together a smooth airline lobbyist with an Eritrean student environmental activist. And some of the characters, such as Sarah's husband and Robert's landlady, seem to have been included purely for comic relief. But these are minor blemishes. Overall, it's a thrilling piece of theatre whose Gooldian virtues far outnumber its flaws. And it's a shot in the arm for the National Theatre's small Cottesloe stage, which rarely seems to be used to its full potential.
What worries me slightly is that the success of Rupert Goold's all-singing, all-dancing style is going to spawn a whole school of less talented imitators over the next few years. Keep your shares in Goold but keep a weather eye open for young Gooldian directors who will enter the market with a similar product.