Rare Earth Mettle was originally scheduled for spring 2020, but it makes for especially timely commissioning in the wake of Cop26, as we wait to see whether the big-balls bravado exhibited by world leaders translates into meaningful action. With a script that plucks at today’s major world issues and some careful direction by Hamish Pirie (Teh Internet is Serious Business, Goats), it tells a fictional story with Black Mirror-esque shreds of dystopian possibility.
Arthur Darvill (left) and Carlo Albán (right) in Rare Earth Mettle. Photo: Helen Murray
Seventy per cent of the world’s lithium supplies, we’re told, are buried under Bolivia’s salt flats. Given the finite resource's health properties and potential tech usage, it doesn’t seem outlandish that greedy-eyed, deep-pocketed westerners would circle this land like vultures, waiting for an opportunity to commodify it.
So it is that the petulant, hyperactive Edison Motors CEO Henry Finn (a pressure cooker of a performance from Doctor Who’s Arthur Darvill) and the ruthlessly ambitious NHS doctor-turned-director-of-research Anna (a terse, knife-sharp Genevieve O'Reilly) have come to bargain with local Bolivian man Kimsa (a steady Carlo Albán) and his sickly daughter for the land beneath their feet.
Racheal Ofori (left) and Genevieve O'Reilly (right) in Rare Earth Mettle. Photo: Helen Murray
Henry proposes to use the lithium to engineer electric cars to stall the climate crisis. Anna wants to add it to the UK’s water system, with studies suggesting it could reduce depression. Both ambitions sound noble, but the lengths their proprietors are willing to go to in order to achieve their aims prove more sinister. Meanwhile for Kimsa, this land represents more than dollar signs; it’s the history of his people, and selling it is not a decision he’s willing to rush.
Set in March 2020, Rare Earth Mettle was in rehearsals the month the pandemic struck and the production was put on hold. Clever rewrites have seamlessly weaved in the global health emergency to the narrative. Anna promises the country antibiotics for the illness soon set to ravage its population (although antibiotics are effective against bacteria, not viruses), and handshakes are swapped for knowing elbow bumps or followed by the swift application of antibac. References to Greta Thunberg and Mark Zuckerberg further cement the story in the present (all the more fitting after the latter’s recent revelations about his ambitions for the metaverse), while the recent Bolivian elections and the country’s stint without a government legitimise the possibility of this saga unfolding there in the first place.
It’s darkly funny, with much of the humour coming from the language barrier between the ignorant tech mogul and the Spanish-speaking community whose homeland he’s hoping to buy up with Monopoly-style ease.
Carlo Albán (left) and Ashleigh Castro (right) in Rare Earth Mettle. Photo: Helen Murray
Moi Tran’s set – a surreal blend of naturalism overlayed with cardboard cut-outs of plants, planes and vintage posters – shuttles the narrative between its locations of the salt flats, a UK laboratory and a boardroom in Silicon Valley. At times, the stage is overrun with props (the floppy cut-out letters spelling ‘Finn’ presumably a last-minute addition because of the ongoing antisemitism scandal surrounding the character originally being named Hershel Fink).
At over three hours, it’s a little arduous in places; stretching boardroom scenes and danced-through set changes could, and should, be cut. But with its marrying of big, important topics – tech profits versus the NHS; developed countries damaging the developing world; the ability of the über-rich to make ‘a little edit in history’; and the ever-growing power of capitalism –Rare Earth Mettle is a timely study of the frictions between different value systems and the worrying reality that some globally impactful decisions are made as favours between powerful people scratching each other’s backs.
|What||Rare Earth Mettle, Royal Court Theatre review|
|Where||Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square, London, SW1W 8AS | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Sloane Square (underground)|
10 Nov 21 – 18 Dec 21, 7:30 PM – 9:30 PM
|Price||£12 - £45|
|Website||Click here for more information and tickets|