Empty streets, businesses and entire industries halted, a year in limbo as everyone is asked to stay inside for the good of humanity. I’m not talking about Covid lockdowns, but the premise of State Theatre’s latest production, Hibernation, which was conceived, remarkably, in late 2019, several months before the pandemic brought so much of the world to a standstill.
The prescient play, by Adelaide playwright Finegan Kruckemeyer, is set in the year 2030 during an impending climate crisis. With few options left, world leaders decide to save the planet by sending every person on Earth into a deep sleep for a year, leaving the natural world to reset.
The plot came to Kruckemeyer in the middle of the night. “It was one of those very rare epiphanous moments where I literally woke up in bed and I had essentially a full storyline mapped out in my head,” he tells Broadsheet. “And that’s not the way I usually work at all but in this instance, for whatever reason, I had all these strands of narrative and all these countries around the world and all these characters … so I quickly scribbled it down and sent it off to [artistic director] Mitchell [Butel] at State [Theatre] … And really weirdly about five months later the world kind of tilted sideways.”
The writing of Hibernation slowly became the witnessing of it as Kruckemeyer (like everyone) was forced to stay inside for the greater good. “It was just after I’d handed a first draft to Mitchell and essentially during the chat about what the play was looking like – he’s far more prescient than me – he said, ‘Hey, are you noticing what’s happening in the world and how that seems to be mirroring some stuff?’ And then incrementally all these things came to be. And suddenly there was this added level of relevance to it, aside from the broader environmental things in it.”
The play premieres at the Dunstan Playhouse this month with a Jonathon Oxlade-designed set that’ll transport audiences to multiple cities across the world. There are scenes set in Adelaide, Canberra, Los Angeles, Nigeria, Colombia and Korea.
“You encounter people across five continents who are all managing a world nine years in the future and the stakes are higher environmentally, in terms of water shortages and populations starting to move around more pragmatically, because land masses are being threatened by sea levels … and so a government minister aided by his advisors makes a decision to do something quite drastic,” Kruckemeyer says.
“So what’s encountered in the play is the lead up to this decision and then this strange, floating, dream-like middle act, which is … most of the people on earth asleep … and then the third act is the aftermath and the discovery of what humans wake up to.”
There are scenes in the play reminiscent of news reports last year of animals flourishing in a world without humans and air pollution clearing due to the reduction in car and air travel. (Which were eventually followed by reports of a return to pre-Covid pollution levels as economies started to open back up.)
“Environmentally the paradigm has shifted and nature has kind of encroached upon the built world and there are these kinds of changes but really, what it becomes about is humans’ resolve, in different ways,” Kruckemeyer says. “Some of them are trying to revert back to what they knew, to build the world again in the image of what it was. Some are using it as this get-out-of jail-free card and trying to reinvent their lives in some way: falling in love, falling out of love, changing locations, changing couplings. And others are navigating the space in between – acknowledging what matters most to them but also discovering things that are new to them: new pleasures or new threats.
“And ironically this is what people have been seeing over the last year and a half. Some people really enjoying this time of taking a step back from their lives or considering their lives in a more complex fashion. And others are clinging to the return of the things they knew.”
Despite the uncanny parallels, Kruckemeyer was conscious not to let the reality unfolding dictate or direct the course of the play. “I try not to pander or subscribe too heavily to things around me in a moment in time,” he says. “I try to write plays that will endure in whatever way they can. And so, while of course I was aware that the audience would be looking at the work in a different way, I also didn’t want to shift things too much on account of that.”
While the story unfolds on a global scale, it also zooms in locally to explore some particularities about Adelaide. “I have people going on a date at the Exeter,” says Kruckemeyer, who returned here a couple years ago, after a long time away. “The play is also an homage to that, celebrating this place that you can re-fall in love with, and how nice that is.”
Hibernation runs from August 13 to 28 at the Dunstan Playhouse. Tickets are available online.