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May 18th 2012 print

Andrew McIntyre

On with the climate play!

In the current climate in Australia, to say anything that supports a sceptical view on climate change earns you abuse, loathing and the loneliness of the apostate.

This week started with an alarmist announcement in Sydney from the Gillard government’s two stooges — Will Steffen and Tim Flannery — on new dangers they have discovered about catastrophic heating in the Western suburbs of Sydney; madness, violence and mayhem. By way of contrast, like summer is to winter, or droughts are to floods, just a few days later I saw The Heretic by award winning British playwright, Richard Bean. It is MTC’s daring new production on global warming starting this week at the Sumner Theatre. I say daring, because in the current climate in Australia, to say anything that supports a sceptical view on climate change earns you abuse, loathing and the loneliness of the apostate.

Case in point?

Clive Hamilton, on reviewing the play, spat the dummy and “did a tanty”, unwittingly giving the play a “to die for” endorsement:

Richard Bean has swallowed, without chewing, all of the climate denier talking points favoured by the Tea Party. He must have spent a long time clicking from one denier website to the next, without ever bothering to look at any real science — you know, the science endorsed by every scientific academy in the world.

Nevertheless, he was able to accurately sum up the general thrust of the play:

Diane Cassell is presented by playwright Richard Bean as the lone figure of integrity who has the courage to stand up to the climate science establishment, scientists who are cravenly manipulating their research to stay on the gravy train.

Spot on Clive.

The MTC production is thus ‘brave’ and, to his credit, Aidan Fennessy, a member of MTC’s Season 2012 Programming Team, publicly recognises that the play is ‘contentious’. But it appears, notwithstanding, that MTC management is nervous. The promotion went on to claim, presumably as an apologia, that the play “has many different voices about climate change so it certainly doesn’t preach and the playwright hasn’t let any of them dominate too much.”

Pure obfuscation, most probably to avoid alarming its subscribers. The play itself, and a recent interview on the ABC with the playwright, contradicts that assessment. It is very much about exposing the corruption of climate science, the madness of the warmists, and the violence of the environmental left. Make no mistake.

Full marks go to Richard Bean for tackling in an entertaining form, what is, in the end, a difficult and complex issue. At around two hours — there are some long moments — he valiantly sets out through humorous dialogue to explain some of the science; from the Holocene climatic optimum, the non-linear response of temperature to the doubling of carbon dioxide, through Glaciergate, the exaggerations of rising sea levels in the Maldives, to the very complex explanation of the Hockey Stick scandal. This latter digression left the audience struggling, perhaps because most have not bothered with the implications of the Climategate emails, or followed the brutal exposure of the infamous Hockey-stick fraud, or actually understand the problems encountered with the science … thanks of course to our fearless media.

The whole was dressed up in an overarching theme of family and work relations which also gave Bean scope to delve into the issues of venality and corruption within the scientific community, the motivations of the deep and fanatical green left — a nice reversal for once was to have the death threat aimed at a sceptic, rather than our besieged academics crying false crocodile tears at the ANU in Canberra — and the human hating motivations of self loathing so clearly seen in agitators of the anti-Western Left.

Hypocrites get short shift. After commenting on how Al Gore has put on a lot of weight recently, one character observes defensively: “For every mouthful of food Al Gore eats, he gives two to an African child”. The incredulous reply: “The child must be fucking enormous.”

The play itself is outstandingly produced. The lead role by Noni Hazlehurst as Dr Diane Cassell, is strong and sustained throughout a very long and demanding piece. The love interest between one of Dr Cassell’s students, Ben (Shaun Goss), and her rebellious, intractable and cynical, anorexic daughter Phoebe (Anna Samson), is wonderfully written and performed. The craven faculty head, Profess Kevin Maloney (Andrew McFarlane) who wavers towards scientific corruption for career gain, is sharply drawn, giving his character an awkward ‘John Cleese’ treatment.

Indeed, the play is very reminiscent of two of David Williamson’s plays. The first with the same name The Heretic, about the idealised distortions made by Margaret Mead, the social anthropologist who wrote her anti-Western monograph Coming of Age in Samoa, and the second, Dead White Males about post modernist intellectual hypocrisies. Both plays are set in academia. My memory of the Williamson plays, seen in Melbourne, was that they were greeted with very warm enthusiasm and strong laughter. Perhaps because both plays were set in Australia with Australian protagonists and idiom, they were more immediately recognisable than the British Heretic, with English accents, locations and references. Or was it simply that this play is truly heretical, and truly goes too far against the orthodoxy of a tradition Melbourne audience? It was too often too quiet, even though the play is full of Williamesque humour. “You don’t need a licence to live with a woman”. “No, but you do need a training course.”

The play’s director, Matt Scholten, also reflects a defensiveness about the play, saying that it “has many different voices about climate change so it certainly doesn’t preach and the playwright hasn’t let any of them dominate too much.”

Good try Matt. That ain’t what I saw and it ain’t what Clive Hamilton saw. The play is unambiguously a plea for truth and honesty with regard to the science on the global warming issue, with deft insinuations about the deeper motivations for the current global warming hysteria and the general madness and dishonesty surrounding the whole topic.

In an interview on the ABC with Michael Carthcart, Richard Bean explained that he is a sceptic. Indeed, in the play, Dr Cassell is made to say emphatically at one point, in reply to the accusation that she doesn’t believe in climate change. "I am a scientist. I don’t believe in anything."

Bean himself is under no illusion about climate models that have so far shown to be incorrect. But he is open:

I wouldn’t mind if [the science ] was proven and shown to be true, but it hasn’t been. No one…I’ve been reading around the subject and talking to people around the subject for about eight years now, and I’ve never seen a single scientific paper that proves that CO2 has caused 0.8°, 0.9° of warming, I haven’t seen that. 

To underline this view, in response to goading from a fanatical green member of the ‘Voluntary Human Extinction Movement’, Dr Cassell snaps rather tetchily to the claim that she is a denier, "I’m agnostic on anthropogenic global warming, but if you can prove to me there’s a God I’ll become a nun quicker than you can say ‘lesbian convent orgy’."

Very well received in London last year with audiences at the Royal Court theatre, allegedly mostly of environmental left persuasion, they loved the jokes and the constant send-up of green shibboleths. Even the Guardian managed to bless it, finding it “pugnacious and entertaining and good on the dangers of heterodox thinking".

But how will Australian audiences react? As mentioned above, in the performance I attended last night, there were some long spots and not as much laughter as I thought it deserved. There was one saving grace. A long-standing warmist friend I happened to encounter at interval said that it “made her think”.

The Heretic by Richard Bean is playing at the MTC Sumner Theatre, Melbourne, until June 23

Andrew McIntyre blogs at andrewmcintyre.org