Muster Station: Leith review – visceral vision of the looming apocalypse

·2 min read

Climate campaigners have been sounding the alarm for decades, but only now the days are getting hot and the rivers are running dry have they had much impact. We are simple creatures, programmed to respond to visible threat and bad at dealing with the theoretical, however well founded. That being the case, Muster Station: Leith makes a convincing job of turning abstract hypothesis into tangible experience. A few more steps down our apocalyptic road and this is what it could be like.

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As is the tradition of Grid Iron theatre company, it is an immersive performance in which the audience are cast as refugees from an environmental catastrophe. Waters are rising and we are less than a week away from a devastating tidal wave. We find ourselves in the school hall, now a processing centre run by the UK Department for Evacuation, where stern officials bark questions at us and make us wait.

Indeed, there is a lot of waiting in Ben Harrison’s ambitious promenade production, which could be a weakness or it could be the point; we sacrifice any sense of entitlement as we are ushered from holding cell to screening centre, breakout room and refugee centre. We are not just inconvenienced, we are humiliated; our chance of escape dependent on our fluency in the language and culture of Finland, the only country that might possibly accept us.

Written by Harrison with Nicola McCartney, Tawona Sitholé and Uma Nada-Rajah, and marking the end of the Edinburgh international festival’s four-year outreach residency at Leith Academy, the script varies from meandering conversations to heightened realism, solo storytelling to life-and-death drama (a particularly vivid scene played out in the school swimming pool). In its political scope, it makes connections between class, power and colonialism, the climate emergency exposing social inequalities that existed long before the temperatures started to rise.

This interconnectedness keeps the show from becoming an end-of-days theme park. If it gives no direct answers to surviving the crisis we face, it demonstrates in a visceral and unsettling way something of the forces, both political and meteorological, we are up against.