Nicole Beutler Projects’ ATMEN at Koninklijke Schouwburg in The Hague

It can sometime be difficult to accept that the Earth is warming while we are in the middle of the current cold snap with snow on the roofs and ice on the canals. But global warming is, we are lead to believe, and unless we do something about it, leading the planet to destruction. The end is nigh – but then it always has been.

The Nicole Beutler Projects’ raison d’être is the problem of climate change. With Atmen Ms Beutler has reached the middle of her trilogy Rituals of Transformation, the first part of which, Gingko, dealt with the dying planet. Set, post-apocalypse, amid the detritus of a broken world, it foretold of our demise and even threatened the gingko tree which has survived on earth for 290 million years.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Atmen imagines the aftermath of climate change, that Earth will eventually breathe again and that humankind will emerge from a world engulfed in greenery, the same primeval soup that first nurtured life.

For the performance the theatre itself becomes this environment with the orchestra pit filled with trees and plants and foliage encroaching half-way into the auditorium. The stage itself is dominated by a huge grey mound (earth/rock/lava?) and from beneath it the stirrings of life can be detected as six characters gradually emerge from the dark undergrowth. A discarded oil drum, a reminder of les temps perdus, can be seen half-hidden at the back and a rather incongruous metal stepladder plays a prominent part in the proceedings. In Gingko the animal kingdom was represented by a polar bear, in Atmen it is a white wolf that makes an appearance.

The movement of the performers was often like some long forgotten tribal ritual that worshiped the Earth as a god. At other times the choreography was primitive, depicting a struggle for survival in an environment that although green, was still hostile. There was respite at the end when things settled down, marked by some fine choral singing from the ensemble.

Visually and theatrically Atmen was spectacular. In addition to the abundance of real plants in the theatre there were some enormous projections designed by Heleen Blanken, which augmented the amount of vegetation around us. The most spectacular of the projections was beyond doubt a huge waterfall, the full height of the stage. The sound design by Ruben Kieftenbelt, including electronic music by Gary Shepherd, added an extra dimension to the show as did the often breath-taking lighting effects. Atmen, as indeed was Gingko, is total theatre, immersive and engulfing and is beyond doubt a tour de force to be reckoned with.

However, most plants benefit from a little pruning and consequently grow bigger and stronger as a result. The same could be said of Atmen where there were passages during which not much seemed to be happening or the action was repetitious or too drawn out. Nevertheless, Nicole Beutler’s Rituals of Transformation trilogy undoubtedly has its heart in the right place and I shall certainly be looking forward to the final part, Now We Are On Earth next year.  Michael Hasted  20th January 2024

You can listen to the ArtsTalk Radio interview with Nicole Beutler here

Nicole Beutler Projects’ Atmen will be on tour throughout The Netherlands and Germany until 15th June.