by Chloe Naldrett
Yesterday (4 October), student supporters of Just Stop Oil disrupted the evening performance of Les Misérables. As a supporter and spokesperson for Just Stop Oil I have spoken in defence of actions in galleries and on sports pitches. This is a tough one for me because I am also a Theatre Producer, with a 22-year career in the industry we all love. It’s awful to watch artists and audiences disrupted in this way.
But in response to this action it is time for us all to decide who we are.
Les Misérables tells the story of students in France in 1832 who rose up against a government which could no longer govern in the best interests of the people. A government which imprisoned people for stealing food for a child. A government which lived in luxury while women were forced to sell their hair, their teeth and their bodies to support their children. We know what inequality looked like then, we know what it looks like now, and we know what it will look like in the future.
The students who took action at the Sondheim are in exactly the same position as the students in the show: we cannot admire Marius and his comrades without also admiring them. These young people see a government which is prioritising its own interests while destroying the hope that they have for their future. They see a system which is rigged against them. They see a government which, against the clear warnings of the UN, the WHO, the International Energy Agency and the world’s climate scientists, is opening 100 new oil and gas fields in the North Sea to “max out our oil and gas reserves”, while fossil-fuel induced climate breakdown accelerates all around us. And they will not accept it.
This show cannot go on.
The students who took this action did so out of desperation. They would not normally wish to disrupt the work of talented creative professionals or an audience who have paid to see a show they love – but these are not normal times. Supporters of Just Stop Oil take actions like this because all other attempts at raising our voices and demanding change have failed. We do it because the magnitude of the existential crisis we are in demands that we throw our bodies onto the line. Like the Parisian students of 1832, we are fighting for our lives.
Les Misérables was the first West End show I watched, aged 16. This and the other shows I have watched over the last 27 years have taught me not to turn away in the face of injustice. They have taught me about the responsibility I have as a parent, as a professional, as a member of many communities, and as a human being not to stand aside while everything we love is destroyed. If we do not have clear air, clean water, good food to eat and safe places to live, then nothing else matters – and right now all those basic needs are under threat from the impacts of global heating (or ‘global boiling’ as Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of the UN, is now calling it).
As artists and representatives of cultural institutions, we are responsible for telling stories which reflect the world around us. And right now we are fighting for our lives, the lives of our children, and the lives of people around the world who have experienced the terror of climate breakdown at first hand this summer. What are our responsibilities, as an industry and as individuals at this terrifying time, as our Government pushes us further and further in the wrong direction?
I’ve written this letter in the hope that it will be shared with colleagues across the theatre community, so that they can make up their own minds about the value of the action taken last evening. I invite you to stand with Just Stop Oil, and in support of the young people who took action at the Sondheim. I acknowledge the stress and the anger that will have been experienced – this action would not have been taken lightly, and this letter is not written lightly either.
People are coming together from all over the UK to march day after day in London from 29th October. Its People vs Oil! Sign up at JustStopOil.org