The ginkgo tree, although a native of China, is not uncommon in Europe. It is the last living species in the order Ginkgoales, which first appeared over 290 million years ago. It is a survivor, outliving the dinosaurs and snubbing its nose at plagues, famines, pestilence and everything that Mother Nature and humans threw at it.
Nicole Beutler’s eponymous new work observes that mankind is less of a survivor, that we are all doomed, or might be. Ginkgo, sub-titled A farewell to the world as we know it, is the first in a proposed trilogy, Rituals of Transformation. But it’s not all gloom and doom – in the second part, we are told, nature will breathe again and the final act is a healing balancing act between humans, animals, plants, mycelium and technology.
Beutler’s Ginkgo is a sort of performance version of Blade Runner set, post-apocalypse, amid the detritus of a broken world. Part Extinction Rebellion protest, part Greta Thunberg rally but all unrelenting, in-your-face, hi-octane total theatre, Ginkgo is a piece that is hard to ignore.
We were taken through the proceedings by a lone lady downstage left with her skilfully played ring modulator, supplying much of the music/soundscape. Dressed in immaculate, glowing white she provided a stark contrast to the dirt and grime around her, almost like a guardian angel sent to save us. She lectured, quoted and guided us through the catastrophe that in this case, had already happened.
The half dozen or so characters gradually emerged from the piles of rubbish while even more stuff hung ominously above them – old supermarket trollies, broken furniture, all the kind of stuff you’d find on your local rubbish tip. But this rubbish tip was their home, their only means of shelter and sustenance.
This was immersive theatre, part spoken word, part dance, part music. The ring modulator and Gary Shepherd provided most of the music but for me one of the most powerful moments of the evening was the appearance on stage of Consensus Vocalis, a choir smartly dressed in black singing Mozart’s haunting Lacrimosa. This provided a powerful and beautiful counter-point to the chaos through which they slowly wandered before leaving the stage through the auditorium.
The characters slowly began to put some order into the disarray by collecting up the garbage and making a huge pile of it upstage – a bonfire, an altar, a barricade? But even that collapsed onto a now uninhabited stage onto which snow, or was it ash? slowly fell.
The piece’s alternative title, 56 Million Years Ago There Were Palm Trees on the North Pole, I would have thought, demonstrated that climate change takes place even without man’s intervention. But that’s another argument. Nicole Beutler’s Ginkgo makes a passionate, well-argued and skillfully executed case warning of the destiny that awaits us. Let’s hope she is wrong. Michael Hasted 30th November 2022