Fevered Sleep return to the Young Vic for the first time since their remarkable 2010 show in which children delivered the verbatim thoughts and feelings of elderly folk who had been interviewed on the subject of growing old. The latest, eloquently uncategorisable piece – which also makes key use of perceptions canvassed from the public – addresses the theme of biophilia, defined as “the innately emotional affiliation of human beings to other living organisms” and it registers feelingly how the human world is inexorably alienating itself from the natural world of which it is part.
It takes place within installation. Above the audience on all four sides of the Maria studio are screens showing film of clouds drifting through a deep blue sky. On the ground level, lamps on spindly stands with their heads at different angles sprout from a central rectangle of white chalk stones. The lamplight fluctuates in intensity, and sometimes crackles with what looks and sounds like a nervous collective snicker or goes out completely. The soundscape proper is ethereal tinged with foreboding.
A young woman (played by Laura Cubitt) enters with a dog called Leuca, a delightful whippet, who after a little encouragement (First Night nerves) lies down on her bed and sleeps peacefully throughout. On her revolving stool, Cubitt delivers a prose-poem-like litany of myriad collected responses to nature – ranging from the little (“the smell of snow on wool”) to the large (“The deep black abyss of an infinite, star-studded night”) and from the pleasant (“the sweet steamy breath of a cow”) to the icky (such as the distinctive “taste of an ant that has crawled up into a sandwich”).
The clouds on the screens start racing towards us and then, after an interlude in which the woman talks to us autobiographically about all the things that have been lost in the natural environment of her outer-suburb childhood home, the initial evocative list is repeated, this time with a change of tense “There used to be” and in a more mixed up and telegraphic form. Inducing a pang and a panic of nostalgia, it makes you almost hear the world depleting itself. The clouds start to look like grey fireballs. The show does not prosecute an argument (in that respect, it's the antithesis of the lecture format of the Royal Court's recent climate-change piece Ten Billion) but it works delicately and by poetic association through its telling musical structure. It's haunting; it stays with you.