The Marlowe
A Conversation With Dawn King

A Conversation With Dawn King

We spoke to The Trials playwright Dawn King about her inspiration, the process of writing The Trials, and her hopes for the future.

What inspired you to write The Trials?
During one of the first Fridays for Future school climate strikes, I meant to go down to support the young people, but I forgot because I was booking flights to New York for a writing residency. I said to myself, “you think you’re so green, but in the future, when the kids come for the polluters, arty hypocrites like you will be the first against the wall.” It was a fascinating concept for a play, born from me questioning myself about how much I was doing, and if it was enough, even if others were more obviously ‘guilty’. I also wanted to write about how unfair it is to expect ‘the youth’ to save us when the climate emergency is not their fault.

The play gives a voice to the young generation inheriting the climate crisis. What was it like exploring how they might feel about our actions? Did you speak to young people during the process?
I imagined how I might feel as a teenager in the world today or in the future; angry, anxious, or perhaps facing uncertainty with black humour. I wrote some of that into my characters and of course ‘young people’ are all different, so I wanted to reflect a mixture of opinions and attitudes. During the writing and rehearsal process both in Germany and when I revised the text ahead of the English language premiere at the Donmar, the play had multiple readings and workshops with different young performers which meant I could also talk to them and bring their thoughts into the script.

A boy is sitting on a chair, he has a smile on his face and one finger pointed to the air like he's just had an idea. Other boys and girls look in his direction.

Photo by Steve Gregson

What are the conversations and debates that you hope The Trials will spark? Should we feel guilty? Should we feel empowered to change?
Whilst I think that everyone who experiences it will respond differently, the play is a thought experiment which invites everyone involved – myself as the writer, the audience and the people producing, performing and making it – to think about how their actions during our climate emergency could be viewed in the future and also what action can be taken now in the present. Is it enough to say that someone else has more power or more responsibility? Does that mean an individual can do nothing? Who is really responsible anyway? There are a lot of complex arguments in the play.

I also designed the play as activism, because I wrote a diversity and sustainability statement into the published text. It’s not possible for any theatre or company to produce it without at least thinking about these issues. For example, this production at The Marlowe is being created using the Theatre Green Book, which gives guidelines for sustainability in theatre productions.

A girl is sitting on a bench talking with a boy.

Photo by Steve Gregson

The play isn’t set hundreds of years from 2023 – it is a near future that the characters are experiencing. Do you think the world has made any progress since you wrote The Trials in 2020?
There is progress being made. People are starting to wake up and realise that the climate emergency is real, happening now, and that we have to do something. This is important because it only takes a small percentage of the population to be actively involved in a movement or to want change for change to happen (see this research by Erica Chenoweth at Harvard University or this article in Science) Change is happening. For example, in Ecuador, 60% of voters voted to prevent drilling for oil in the Yasuni National Park, which is a historic win. Also recently, a group of young people in Montana successfully sued their government for not assessing the impact of greenhouse gas emissions when making decisions. Small but meaningful changes are being made everywhere, including in theatre and the arts, where being eco-conscious is becoming part of accepted practice. However, the UK Government is taking dangerous steps backwards by eroding environmental protections, putting non-violent environmental protesters in prison, and making new plans for fossil fuel extraction which is totally incompatible with the carbon neutral future we all need to protect civilisation from the worst effects of climate change.

There is a glimmer of hope in The Trials – people have finally taken the climate crisis seriously and action is being taken. Do you feel hopeful?
I do feel hopeful. We all have power; the power to use our voices to talk about how things should be, the power to vote when we can to protect nature, the power to make choices and live differently, to BE the change. Things don’t have to be this way. We can change the story of the human race so that we live in harmony with nature and so that people in other countries don’t suffer for the way we live here in the West. Those who want us to feel that nothing can be done are simply afraid, or trying to cling to power and money. They are dinosaurs. Their time is coming to an end.

The Trials runs from Thursday 31 August to Saturday 2 September. Tickets are available through The Trials booking page.