Social Media

Kyoto - Royal Shakespeare Company Review

Reviewed by Bethany Hill at The Swan Theatre
Tickets were gifted in return for an honest review

The year is 1997. The world’s developed and developing nations sit poised to make the first global commitment to tackle the issue of climate change, and you are at the centre of history. For me, the best theatre is the kind that makes you think. Kyoto is a play that dares to challenge, to question and to at times make you feel uncomfortable as it explores the pivotal issue of climate change and the power of words themselves.

Photo by Manuel Harlan

At the top of the play, we are introduced to our narrator and protagonist Don Pearlman, played by Stephen Kunken. He reminds us that compared with the age we live in, filled with recessions, food shortages and warfare, the 1990s appeared a dream. He also reminds us however that the 1990s were the ‘golden age of disagreement’ with all countries out to solely protect their own economy and identity. From then on, the first act of the play documents the journey to the Kyoto summit, or COP3 as many of us will know it better as. The global unrest at the increasing scientific evidence for climate change becomes apparent as our narrator’s own role in discussions is gradually revealed. We see lengthy political debates at the role of language in discussions around climate change, with subtleties and power of single words called into question. The very definition and ramifications of climate change are highlighted with words like ‘discernible’, ‘significant’ and ‘questionable’ used to either highlight the devastating impacts or attempt to hide them. We also see Pearlman’s personal turmoil, including death threats from the general public and the struggle of his wife Shirley to understand and support the choices she makes. In Act Two, the events of COP3 itself unfurl before us. The incredible feat of mankind is seen, as the nations finally set agreements on a global scale despite vested interests, political warfare and underhanded agreements. The emotional celebrations we see at the play’s end give glimmers of hope, whilst Shirley’s final monologue reminds us all that there is still so much to be done back in the real world.

As the RSC always do so well, this play is simply outstanding in its staging and audience experience. When you enter the Swan theatre, you are given a COP3 lanyard, putting you at the heart of the action as a political delegate in the conference. Each lanyard is different; we were delegates from Haiti and Australia, each with their own 1990s statistics card. In certain seats, you are also able to sit around the table of the conference itself with interaction from cast members.

Photo by Manuel Harlan
The show uses technology to easily transport us from one conference to the next and to scenes in between, with some wonderful tricks of technology including a falling chandelier and newspaper ambush.

The performances in this play are undoubtedly outstanding, with many actors playing multiple roles. Stephen Kunken is mesmerising as Pearlman; he becomes more of a villain as the play progresses but remains nuanced and multi-faceted throughout. His wife Shirley is played by Jenna Augen; her internal struggle with her husband’s actions mirror the response of the audience themselves whilst her final monologue brought a tear to the eye of many audience members, myself included. Around the table we have the delegates, played by Jude Akuwudike, Nancy Crane, Vincent Franklin, Andrea Gatchalian, Kwong Loke, Togo Igawa, Dale Rapley, Ingrid Oliver, Raad Rawi, Olivia Barrowclough as secretariat and Ferdy Roberts. Together they brought the political battlefield to life with powerful emotion, spirited discussion and likeability that one may have thought impossible in a political conference. Their discussions are fast-paced, engaging and truly thought-provoking. Ferdy Roberts in particular transformed into John Prescott, well-known to the audience, through subtle mannerisms and performance changes that made him instantly recognisable. A stand out performance was also given by Jorge Bosch as the role of Raul; an audience favourite throughout with both comedy and serious elements balanced brilliantly.

What makes this play so important is that it brings to the world stage the reminder to us all that climate change is everyone’s responsibility. The audience are left angry at Pearlman for his attempts to block the agreement of the protocol, however at the end of the play Shirley’s monologue provides a hard-hitting moment of self reflection. 

She verbalises the audience’s question; why DID Pearlman continue to act when the science around climate change became more clear? She then asks us as an audience to consider that same question; why is it that WE haven’t and continue not to act in our every day lives? This dramatisation reminds us of key moments in history yes, but more than that it is a rally cry to act now and make fast, impactful changes in our daily lives while we can.

Kyoto is a fast-paced political thrill ride that leaves the world a better place than it found it. It is playing at the RSC’s Swan Theatre until 13 July and tickets are available from


Photo by Manuel Harlan.

Post a Comment


Theme by STS