Our Media and Communications Manager Mike Barnett speaks to Richard Bean about The Heretic, which opens at The Lowry on Thursday 27 September.
MB: When did you first spot the potential of a play in the subject of climate change?
RB: One of the main inspiring things was the Al Gore documentary An Inconvenient Truth, because the science in that was very close to nonsense. There was one sequence in particular where I was thinking ‘what’s going on here?’ I’ve got a science degree, and it’s all incredibly shoddily presented.
MB: If that’s the case, how has he got away with it?
RB: He hasn’t. But if he has, it’s largely because politicians are scientifically illiterate. For example, out of 650 MPs, there is something like just three or four with science degrees. You can tell them anything and they’ll believe it.
MB: You’re on record of having an open mind on global warming. Did that stance inform your script?
RB: Basically I’ve got nothing at stake. People tell me I’m a committed climate change sceptic; I am a sceptic, but all I’m asking for is evidence, and at the moment there is no incontrovertible evidence. The thing to ask yourself is this: Since industrialisation, how influential has CO², carbon dioxide, been in increasing temperatures by 0.8º, or 0.9º? And there’s nobody who can answer that. Carbon dioxide has increased the global temperature, but by how much? A heavy warmist like Al Gore said ‘I think it’s gotta be 0.7º and we’re all gonna fry.’ That’s what he said, but a couple of years later and there’s no evidence for it and he then says we’ve all over-estimated the role of carbon dioxide – that’s Al Gore talking, not a climate sceptic.
MB: Do you think if you’d had firm views one way or the other you’d have come up with a different play altogether?
RB: At the end of the day, The Heretic is about defending science from what I would call ‘nightmare-driven narrative.’ You’ll remember the huge scare years ago about acid rain, and remarks like ‘acid rain will kill off all the trees in Germany’ amid pictures of blackened landscapes and destroyed forests. I went to Germany recently and you can’t move for trees. The nightmare narrative is like a drug to our generation, because that’s what we’re brought up on.
MB: Two years after writing The Heretic, are you still of an open mind?
RB: It wouldn’t bother me for personal reasons if somebody showed me tomorrow that CO² was the main driver of that 0.8º or 0.9º rise, but I’ve spent £5000 on solar panels at home, I drive a LPG car, I recycle and all these other things – if someone tells me I’ve got to change the way I live, it’ll make no difference to me because I’ve already done it.
MB: Is there anything in the fact that the scientist in the play is a woman?
RB: I used to be accused of writing ‘hairy bloke’ plays, so having as its centre-piece a woman with an anorexic daughter was a bit of a departure. She’s starving her body of proteins and carbohydrates, and for me, as a playwright, that’s a direct analogy with the way that if we stop using carbon-based fuels we’re going to starve the economy of what it needs, which is cheap fuel. Why did I make her a woman? I wanted to make the professor a man, and unless I made them gay, the relationship wouldn’t have worked the same way.
MB: Is there anything in that the first country outside the UK to produce the play – Australia – is one where global warming is regarded as a seriously key issue?
RB: It’s a good question. It hasn’t been produced in America because they’re not that interested in global warming there. I got some fantastic hate mail from university academics in Australia, and none of them had seen the play, of course, which is standard procedure of anyone who writes to you and says your play is a disgrace. One university professor wrote to me attaching one of his own academic papers. His first sentence read: ‘I haven’t seen your play, but…’ I read his first two paragraphs and I thought ‘I know how to reply to this’, so I emailed him and said ‘when you see my play, I’ll read your letter.’ He hasn’t replied.
MB: You’re coming up to Manchester to watch a day of rehearsals. Do you find it easy to sit back and watch what other people are doing to your work, and also, what do you know about the work of the Library Theatre Company?
RB: If you knew they were getting something seriously wrong you might do something, but you’re hardly going to know that unless you watch rehearsals every day, of course. I don’t know a great deal about the work of the Library Theatre to be honest, but I’ve got mates who are actors who’ve worked there a few times who’ve said it’s great, and that’s good enough for me.
MB: Finally, what are you working on at the moment?
RB: I’ve been in workshops for the past couple of weeks working with Max Stafford-Clark and the Royal Shakespeare Company on a new play of mine called Pitcairn, where the bounty mutineers went to live. Fingers crossed the RSC want to do it!
The Heretic opens on Thu 27 Sep and runs until Sat 13 Oct, you can book tickets and find out more information here. Tickets are also available from The Lowry Box Office on 0161 208 6010.