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Issue 1784 (PDF)
The student newspaper of Imperial College London

Keep the Cat Free

Salt flats and precious metals shine in Rare Earth Mettle

Another play that prods us to ask the quintessential question with progress - Does the ends justify the means?

Rare Earth Mettle Production Helen Murray 74 Min1 1024x683 Photo: Helen Murray


in Issue 1784


Rare Earth Mettle

★ ★ ★
Royal Court Theatre
Until 11th December, 2021
£10 (Students)

Like the Salt Flat that is at the heart of story, there is more than meets the eye to Al Smith’s new play Rare Earth Mettle at the Royal Court Theatre. Half satirising scheming capitalists, half haunted by the ghosts of Imperial legacies of trauma, the play manages to juggle multiple themes, questions, and perspectives. But because of the this, some questions are left unanswered, and some ideas undeveloped. 

70% of the world’s lithium under a Salt Lake in Bolivia lies. Anna (Genevieve O’Reilly), a doctor who wants to use the Lithium to create a new medicine to alleviate the mental health crisis in the UK, and Henry Finn (Arthur Darvill), a tech tycoon who wants to build batteries for electric cars, must battle for possession of the land and the attention of its only living inhabitant. Both Darvill and O’Reilly characters’ moral ambiguity becomes more uncomfortable to watch as the narrative unfolds. Darvill’s character, an amalgamation of Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg with a bit of Elizabeth Holmes thrown in for Machiavellian measure, is particularly vibrant. He balances malice and charm to never be too unlikable. At one point he bribes a professor to sacrifice his academic integrity to literally rewrite history. Because the gruesome scene is played for laughs, any sense of seriousness is lost and the underlying themes go undeveloped. We do not know when to laugh or be appalled by moral outrageousness. The play struggles develop a sense of identity as a result. 

... an amalgamation of Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg with a bit of Elizabeth Holmes thrown in for Machiavellian measure

Darvill and O’Reilly are supported by a strong ensemble. It is rare to see a large cast at the usually intimate Royal Court. It is even rarer to see a large cast filled with layered characters. Each performer expertly manages to hint at their rich inner lives plagued by past trauma and sacrifice. They are united by the same question: Does the end justify the means? What are we as a society willing to sacrifice to achieve as a society? Take iPhones, something that previous generations could only dream of, that are made in factories with appalling human rights violations. What about the production of eco-friendly cars and the climate crisis?  

Rare Earth Mettle Production Helen Murray 5 Min1 1024x683 Photo: Helen Murray
Genevieve O’Reilly (left) and Carlo Albá (right) in Rare Earth Mettle

Rare Mettle Earth had been the subject of controversy as the name of the Musk/Zuckerberg tech tycoon “Henry Finn” was originally “Hershel Fink”, an ostensibly Jewish name even though Jewishness is irrelevant to the character and not mentioned at all. The name was changed a few weeks before previews. Having seen the play, the decision made was a very wise one. Given the Imperialist undertones of the character, a Jewish name (and one as distinctly Jewish as “Hershel Fink” at that) would have recalled Anti-Semitic stereotypes about Jews and capitalism.

I hope that this play will be remembered for its intriguing story and incredible performances. Not this aforementioned controversy.

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