Rare Earth Mettle
Royal Court Theatre, London
Lyttelton, National Theatre, London
Often written by men called David (Hare / Edgar) or Howard (Brenton / Barker), the “state of England” play was a staple of the 1970s-80s. Recently revived, though now expanded into the “state of the world” play, the genre proves spectacularly troublesome.
Rare Earth Mettle by Al Smith moves between California, where billionaire Henry Finn (Arthur Darvill) is bringing a battery powered car to market; a London laboratory in which medical researcher Dr Anna (Genevieve O’Reilly) is developing new treatments for depression and infection; and a Bolivian salt flat, on which Kimsa (Carlo Albán) has made a home in one of the abandoned trains left by colonial mining companies.
These narrative strands are linked by vast quantities of lithium under the salt, which Finn hopes to buy to power his vehicles, but Anna covets as part of a scheme to reduce pressure on the NHS by tranquillising the population through lithium-infused drinking water.