Luke Rollason's acclaimed show Planet Earth III is on Wednesday 28 June at the Burton Taylor Studio.
Planet Earth III is a one-man nature documentary, performed by an unpaid intern left in the bowels of an abandoned BBC. It's a clown show, which means I can get away with creating the whole of creation with the lowest possible production values. But behind this is the story of a man trying his best with very little, transforming a hopeless world with a little imagination.
Clowning is an unusual way to address environmental themes. But I do believe that what's bringing us closer and closer to ecological disaster is a failure of the imagination - our empathetic understanding of how we affect those we share this planet with. If we can imagine that a man wearing a desk lamp on his head is an angler-fish, we might be able to make the imaginative leap required to register our environmental impact.
Or at least, this is what I told O2 ThinkBig when I applied for their Environment Now fund. At the time the show barely existed - and here I was, claiming to be creating something with a "measurable environmental impact." Measurable. I talked to them about the show solidly for an hour and by the end I'm pretty sure I had made some incredibly hubristic claims about the research, statistics and solutions that would certainly feature in the show.
But that's what I think the clown is all about. Throwing themselves deeply into the utterly unachievable, biting off not only more than they can chew but probably more than they can even fit into their mouth. The line between "dreaming" and "making it up as you go along despite having no idea what you are doing" is not particularly well-defined.
The support from O2 opened up the possibility for a tiny show being put on by an idiot to at least follow through on some of its principles. We were able to print all of our marketing materials on recycled paper, and through eco-friendly processes. As we explored ways the show could reduce its environmental impact, the more aware we became of how hard that is. I almost went mad frantically trawling through London cafes searching for biodegradable cups. Ours is a disposable culture - but what we think of as temporary is not temporary at all. Plastic straws are perhaps the worst example - utterly needless, 500 million of these suckers are used every day in the US. And they don't biodegrade. Like most of our plastic waste, they end up in the stomachs of sea-life.
This became the motivation behind using everyday, mundane objects to create the life of planet earth. Our carelessness for the environment is dangerous because it is so innocuous - it is in our everyday waste, the familiarity of which makes it impossible to see. Takeaway coffee cups, for example, are assumed to be recycled but none of them are - because they are lined with plastic, the process of recycling them is too complex to be commercial. They are technically "recyclable", but instead they are creating a takeout trash mountain.
The above is all very righteous and angry, and a million miles away from me creating antelope horns out of pencils and chasing an audience member around a sweaty theatre. But all of it completely changed the character of the show, and why I was doing it.
I believe in comedy's potential to inspire change as well as laughter. Or at least, to recapture wonder - in Planet Earth III, that means our wonder for the natural world. This stupid idea for a show has snowballed and taken me on a strange journey with it - from the London Clown Festival, where I ended up performing five minutes of my show to cover Red Bastard's costume changes, to Brighton, where I performed the same five minutes at a naked cabaret for charity, and at another time stopped traffic by building a giant web across the street. Best of all, in Brighton the show was nominated for the ONCA Gallery's Green Curtain Award for creativity in the face of climate change.
ONCA called the show "A great piece of improbably hilarious clowning... Using paper clips, masking tape and virtuoso physical clown, Luke Rollason conjures stampedes, food webs, the drama of the hunt, deforestation and seahorses, enchanting audiences to feel with and for the more-than-human world."
Not bad for an idiot with a lot of junk...