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Review: 3 Billion Seconds at Ron Hurley Theatre

Review by Sarah Skubala


‘When it comes to the 3 F words. Food. Fuel. And Freshwater. We are f***ed. F***ed. And f***ed. And we are getting more f***ed, the more f***ing people are doing.’


What happens when a pair of population activists find out they’re having a baby? This is the premise behind 3 Billion Seconds, a manic black comedy written by Maud Dromgoole. 3 Billion Seconds premiered at VAULT Festival in London in 2019 and has made its Australian premiere in a one-night-only performance in Brisbane in an independent production by Kirsty Sturgess, who also plays Daisy.


Dromgoole was inspired to write the play after witnessing the militantism and hypocrisy among members of several zero-waste groups she was a part of, and wanted to capture the struggle of trying to be a good person in a confusing world. Dromgoole even became a vegetarian in the process!


3 Billion Seconds is a fast-paced two-hander, and actors Sturgess and George Harris, who plays Michael, take the audience on a wild 70-minute ride. The play starts with lots of facts presented in a direct, audience-address-style scene about population growth. The pair then proceed to juggle multiple characters, instantly moving between their main characters Daisy and Michael, but also Jack, Michael’s father who has dementia, Sarah, Michael’s best friend and Janice, their annoying neighbour, plus a prenatal doctor.


Sturgess showed danger and distinction, clearly displaying dramatic prowess as she switched between roles in a performance that could easily fit into a play on the La Boite Theatre stage. Harris expertly captured a slightly unhinged quality in an energetic comedic performance that ensured the audience was in stitches.


Co-directors Mikayla Hosking and Liam Wallis set the tone before the play began with a massive screen above the stage that displayed the current global population (8.1 billion and counting), and the numbers kept going up as the play progressed (although they also went back down at times in surreal, through the looking glass moments). A pre-show ticking sound accompanying the screen count helped to put the audience on edge, serving as a sort of ticking time bomb, and the tension it created didn’t really let up for the show’s duration.


We learn, through Daisy and Michael’s presentations, that our planet has the capacity to hold ten billion people, but only if they are all vegetarian. Climate scientists widely agree that not having children at all or having one less child than originally planned would have a significant effect on pollution levels. The play’s opening line, ‘We are a plague on earth!’ is not far off. Three billion seconds is the equivalent of just over 95 years and is the current life expectancy of a baby born today. I admit to heading home after the play and taking a look at the live, online global population count myself. Even with the offset of the death count, the birth number is still rising at an alarming rate.


While the actions of Daisy and Michael, which became darker and more fantastical as the show progressed, could be perceived as extreme and unrealistic, they can almost be appreciated and understood as the actions of two desperate parents-to-be who just want to do the right thing for the planet. 3 Billion Seconds was written in a pre-pandemic world, and Michael’s humorous lament that he wished Ebola would come back, so long as it didn’t wipe out anyone he cared about, hit home in a way that the playwright could never have anticipated when she wrote it.


I would have loved to see the season of 3 Billion Seconds extended beyond one night only to give the production wings to really take flight. That said it is great to see quality independent theatre being produced in Brisbane and I appreciated the accessibility of making tickets free. Huge respect for independent theatre-makers taking risks and staging unseen works on Brisbane stages. May they continue in all their glory.


3 Billion Seconds gives no easy answers, but the hard truth is that we simply aren’t doing enough. 

Image Credit: Erik Farnsworth


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