With actors / makers Tim Lewis and Balvinder Sopal, we
stood on Folkestone beach and high up on the cliffs to the east of the town looking out towards France.
WED 23 SEP 2015
A man is swept up by a storm. His son is a refugee fleeing climate change.
In the rehearsal room we read the WWF climate adaptation report: Sundarbans, Future Imperfect. In it are first person accounts of the impacts of climate change on lives led in the region.
Till the 1970's the magnitude of the impact was very low but for last three decades we are finding it really hard to cope with the magnitude as well as frequency of impacts. Storm cyclones, tidal surges and consequent flooding have become recurring events now. We used to enjoy six seasons in a year but it is hard to comprehend seasonal changes anymore.
Jalaluddin Saha 2007, Age 60, Baliara, Mousuni Island
As more and more people settled near or along the embankment, the mangrove vegetation started thinning because people used it for fuel wood and the plants were not regenerating. Gradually soil slipped away from below the trees and eventually the remaining trees were washed away around 1985. The embankment started to erode as well. In 1992, the earthen embankment gave away. About 100 of us lost our homes and land.
Nitai Chandra Maity 2009, Age 60, Baliara, Mousuni Island
On Google, a patchwork of satellite images reveals a shock of green, grey blue trails weaving through it, the great rivers of the delta spilling into the Bay of Bengal, turning turquoise, ultra marine. I can see the shapes of islands, distributaries defining them, zooming in, creeks, more creeks, more...
According to Hindhu mythology, when the Goddess Ganga was ordered down to earth, she was so infuriated by having to leave the party she was at she set off in a rage. Lord Shiva went to catch her fall. He caught her torrent in the locks of his hair, then let the water loose, gently. It's the water sliding from Shiva's locks that I can see on Google.
FRI 4 SEP 2015
This week we began to make Transport's latest production, The Edge – a story of a journey through weather, time and friendship.
Our week began in Folkestone. Transport Theatre is based in Kent and the company are Associate Artists at the Quarterhouse Theatre, Folkestone.
Actors / Makers – Tim Lewis and Balvinder Sopal, Folkestone
Fisayo Akinade and Cherrelle Skeete –
Royal Central School of Speech & Drama
Collaborative & Devised Theatre Students
But in fact the story of The Edge begins a few years back. In 2011 we made a trip with Royal Central School of Speech & Drama students to Calais.
We huddled on the beach in the cold before some students decided to brave the water. Talking with the migrant community and the Calais Migrant Solidarity Group, we learnt about the difficult journeys people of various nationalities make to Calais and of their desire to cross the Channel to Britain.
In Dover we found a public sculpture of Matthew Webb, the first man to swim the Channel (1875) and on our return made a piece with the Central students about journeys across the Channel – some made out of a will to survive, some for the sake of personal challenge or achievement.
Back in our rehearsal room this week (at Talawa Theatre, Shoreditch, London) we look into the history of the English Channel (or for the French, la Manche). We discover that the Channel is a relatively new phenomenon.
450,000 years ago when ice covered most of what we now know as Britain there was a land bridge between our island and the European continent. As that ice melted the force of the water was so great that a 'mega flood' burst through the bridge and formed a channel.
However, it wasn't until 20,000 years ago, following another period of glaciation, that temperatures rose and sea levels grew to form an ocean channel, rather than a river bed – the Channel that is so familiar to us today.
WED 10 SEP 2015
We have been thinking about the South East coast of England and how climate change will affect it.
We read that climate change and sea level rise are likely to have a severe impact on UK coasts by 2080 – that sea level rise may exceed 1m and a rise of 2m is possible. We learn that an increase in storm events and coastal erosion will accompany this. The low-lying, soft sediment areas of the UK are most vulnerable, for example, East Anglia and the Thames Estuary.
Back in 2011, following our work with Central, we began an exchange with Ranan Dance Theatre Company in Kolkata, supported by a British Council Connections through Culture grant.
This meant that Vikram Iyengar (Artistic Director) and Amlan Chaudhuri (Company Member) were able to come to England and spend time with us in Folkestone and London.
Together, we made a visit to the Thames Barrier. The barrier is one of the largest movable barriers in the world and protects London from flooding caused by tidal surge. However, by 2035 it will need upgrading.
We began to hear tales from Vikram and Amlan of Kolkata and the Ganges Brahmaputra Delta, itself highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. We're beginning to dig into these stories in our rehearsal room today.
Vikram Iyengar and Amlan Chaudhuri
TUE 15 SEP 2015
The Ganges Brahmaputra Delta is home to the largest single tract of Mangrove forest in the world. The Sundarbans – in the Bengali language, Shundor, beautiful, Bon, forest – spans India and Bangladesh (roughly one third in India, two thirds in Bangladesh).
As oceans warm and global sea levels rise, tidal surge and storm events become more frequent in the Bay of Bengal. The mangroves provide a natural breaker to the more than 100 million people living in the Delta region.
December 2011 – January 2012 we paid a return visit to Ranan in Kolkata and made a week-long expedition into the Sundarbans.
We were struck by the pneumatophor roots of the mangroves. These protrude vertically from the mud. Mangroves have adapted to intertidal conditions and are salt tolerant. The pneumatophors are submerged when the tide is high, but when the waters recede they get to work and breath for the trees. In fact, pneumatophors means breath carriers.
Pneumatophors, together with other root systems (belonging to 26 species of mangrove in the Sundarbans) form a mesh, which literally holds the silted land in place.
The mesh of the roots catches silt, mud, debris from the water flowing by, stabilising the ground on which the trees have grown. In this way, the trees build the land, they earth the islands. And this construction presents a breaker to the semi diurnal tide. With varying force the tides come knocking; the mangroves meet them and send them away – baffled.
Excerpts from Breath Carriers, a short story about a journey into the Sundarbans
by Vicky Long
THU 17 SEP 2015
While in the Sundarbans, Vikram introduced us to a range of Kathak gestures that represent natural phenomena.
In the Ranan studio we spent time getting our heads around how tides work with Jo Royle, a professional sailor and marine ecologist who travelled with us to India.
FRI 18 SEP 2015
This week the creative team has grown. Helen Atkinson, Sound Designer and Will Duke, Projection Designer are in the room.
When I ask Helen how she works, she says:
It's like I'm another performer in the room.
Doug asks me to try something and I do!
Already a soundscape conjuring Kent
and the Sundarbans is emerging.
Will begins to experiment with projections on and off the actors’ bodies, using a Kinect sensor and full-body 3D motion capture
Doug, Tim and Bal in a script huddle.
MON 21 SEP 2015
From the beginning of The Edge project, Doug – Douglas Rintoul, Artistic Director of Transport – has asked collaborators to take part in a Le Coq exercise which has to do with exploring physical connection.
Here, Bal and Tim hold a bamboo cane between them. They move around the room taking it in turns to lead. The cane is held between the forefingers of each actor, meaning that complete awareness and responsiveness to the other is needed to keep the cane suspended.
The exercise can be undertaken in several ways. With Ranan, we worked as a group, moving from a circle into a web, then untangling to get back to a circle – keeping the canes suspended all the time. However, with Bal and Tim, Doug is intent on exploring the connection between two people – two actors in a space, two characters in a drama. With the bamboo and other exercises, Doug is looking for a form to express the shifting connection between the two.
Bal and Tim place chairs in the space, shifting the objects and themselves in relation to each other
Another exercise Doug has asked collaborators to take part in from the beginning involves mapping out personal and family histories. Here Bal and Tim tell their stories, starting with themselves in London and working back as far as they can go. They map the geography of each story across the rehearsal room floor – two very different stories, but occasionally they bump into each other. The connections are surprising.
Central students shared their stories with an audience during a work in progress event at Alchemy Festival, Southbank Centre (the festival celebrates the links between South East Asian and British culture). Here was a crowd of stories with many overlapping elements where moves were made through common imperatives of economics and love.
A woman steps into the sea in Kent. A man is swept up by a great storm in West Bengal and two decades later their children meet on a beach by an English town that’s been abandoned to the sea. She’s training to swim the English Channel. He’s a refugee fleeing climate change.
Two characters’ stories collide in The Edge. The piece explores the commonalities between those stories and the nature of their actual collision – what exactly was it that drew them into contact?
During our time in the Sundarbans we visited a village on Sagar Island that had been rebuilt many times, a little further back each time as the sea steadily encroached.
We also visited Ghoromara, an island that is eroding so quickly, its entire population is preparing to leave. Lohachara, its neighbour, has already slipped away.
Lohachara Island was swallowed by the mouth of the Hugli River… a distributary of the Ganges.
The courses of the rivers flowing through the delta change all the time, wearing at islands in different ways. There is increased flow of water from the Himalayas, as glaciers melt at a greater rate. This and the spread of damming increases unpredictability of flow. Sea levels are rising as oceans warm and I learn that the Indian Plate is tipping, gradually, in a southerly direction, lowering the land.
Add to that increased shipping along the Hugli - all of this can overwhelm an island.
Sagar Island, Sundarbans
Ghoromara Island, Sundarbans
The connection between two people, seemingly worlds apart, was Doug’s starting point for our devised piece.
Writing for the Huffington Post, Doug comments:
Many of the islands in the Sundarbans had eroded and in some cases disappeared. There had been significant migration out of the region; in the villages many children had been left without parents, and local fishing and agricultural economies were collapsing. Predictions for 2050 put the whole of this region and its five million inhabitants at risk – and we’re not even talking about Bangladesh yet.
On returning to the UK, I started to look at predictions for sea level rise for coastal communities in England. Talking to coastal management and sea level experts from the National Centre of Oceanography it became clear that there will come a time in the not too distant future where decisions will begin to be made about areas at risk – we will have to let some go, ‘manage a retreat’. Current policies on coastal management are linked to the economic significance of an area. The most impoverished and vulnerable, as in India, may not be protected. There was the connection and the starting point.
THU 24 SEP 2015
An English town abandoned to the sea.
The Edge is about our future – projecting forwards, to 2035. However, many of the events it explores are ones we are already experiencing.
In December 2013, Cyclone Xaver hit the Norfolk coast. In a Guardian article, a resident of Happisburgh, who refers to herself as 'technically, a environmental refugee', describes the coastline post storm:
Beyond a temporary ‘road closed’ sign, the asphalt comes to an abrupt end, hanging over a precipice. The bright yellow cliffs are pockmarked and slumping, constantly worried by the waves. A haphazard path to the beach drops over dark slabs of clay – which look solid, but crumble to the touch. On the beach, decaying remnants of wooden sea defences offer no resistance to the waves. Severed water pipes stick out from the cliff face like broken limbs, the only remnants of a seaside suburb.
With Bal and Tim we read a report on the impacts of climate change on disadvantaged UK coastal communities (full report and summary here). We learn that in some places the government is already managing the retreat of communities. For example, large programmes of retreat are taking place in Essex and West Sussex. We understand that it is the poorest communities, in areas where property values are low, that are being asked to move. Elsewhere, the government continues to invest in sea defences.
The impacts of climate change play into a more general decline in coastal communities. On the south east coast, towns which were once fashionable holiday destinations are now home to some of the highest levels of poverty in Britain, as, for example, the Channel Tunnel and an abundance of cheap flights kills off the tourist industry and affects local livelihoods. The report we read talks about the further affect of this decline on mental health.
A woman steps into the sea in Kent.
The shingle to the west of Folkestone, running along to Sandgate and Hythe, needs 're-profiling' each year as the sea pushes it further inland
Fishermen in Folkestone struggle to make a living – the next generation won't continue the trade
Douglas Rintoul, Tim and Bal in a script huddle
With this project, we are interested in exploring the lives of people who live on the edge, where land meets sea. We are interested in their relationship to the water and their vulnerability to its movement.
There is something about the edge: the edge of the land and water, of habitation and wilderness, of safety and danger. Here possibilities abound that don’t exist in the security of the interior. Mythically it is the lone explorer that searches out the edge. But in life it is entire populations who learn to live at it, on it, with it.
Sunand Prasad, Architect & Former President of RIBA
MON 28 SEP 2015
By Transport Creative Associate,
For more information about Transport or this production go to www.transport-theatre.eu
Resources linked to above, in order of reference
Calais Migrant Solidarity Group
Documenting the lives of migrants in Calais
Joseph Rowntree Foundation
Impacts of Climate Change on disadvantaged UK coastal communities, 2011
How the Thames Barrier works, and when it is scheduled to close, 2015
Environment Agency information on the Thames Barrier – part of the agency’s guidance on Flooding and Coastal Change and Environmental Management
Pneumatophors - Breath Carriers, 2014
A short story, for two voices (one Indian, one British) – take a trip into the mangrove forests of the Bay of Bengal.
National Oceanography Centre UK
Rich online resource of ocean research
Sundarbans Future Imperfect, 2010
Climate Adaptation Report, with personal accounts of environmental change from people who live in the Sundarbans
Patrick Barkham, The Guardian
This Sinking Isle: The homeowners battling coastal erosion, 2015
Philosopher on ethics and climate change
Contribution to The Climate Camp Global Warm Up, SOAS 2009
Environmental Justice Foundation, London
No Place Like Home - Where Next for Climate Refugees? 2009
The Gathering Storm – Climate Change, Security and Conflict, 2014
The story of a gay man fleeing post liberation Iraq due to persecution. Script available:
Why We Disagree About Climate Change, 2009
Written by the founder of the Tyndall Climate Research Centre, this book argues that climate change is not 'a problem' waiting for 'a solution', but is an environmental, cultural and political phenomenon which is re-shaping the way we think about ourselves, our societies and humanity's place on Earth.
A cultural response to climate change
Editors: Renata Tyszczuk, Joe Smith, Nigel Clark, Melissa Butcher
ATLAS: Geography, Architecture and Change in an Interdependent World, 2012
Editors: Robert Butler, Eleanor Margolies, Joe Smith and Renata Tyszczuk
Culture & Climate Change: Recordings, 2011
Culture & Climate Change: Narratives, 2011
United Nations Refugee Convention
Paris Climate Conference – review of the UN’s Framework on Climate Change
Other Resources, key to the making process
The Contingency Plan, 2009
A double bill of plays about the future impacts of climate change on the east coast of England
The Hungry Tide, 2005
A compelling novel, which delivers a fantastically graphic depiction of the Sundarbans
Film/drama about a Kurdish teen’s travels across Europe and the English Channel
Frank Chalmers, BBC 2
Crossing Hell’s Mouth, 2012
Documentary – Frank Chalmers, the English Channel swimmer, prepares for his toughest swim yet, across the notorious Pentland Firth
Editors: Wallace Heim and Eleanor Margolies
Landing Stages, 2014
The edited version of the Ashden Directory and Ashdenizen, which tracked cultural productions with ecological themes, 2000-2014
Bridging the gap between environmental sustainability and the creative industries