Her Green Hell - Edinburgh Fringe 2023
Inspired by the true story of 17-year-old Juliane Koepcke, who miraculously survived a plane crash and a fall from 10,000 ft, “Her Green Hell” is a reimagination of her physical and emotional journey through the Peruvian rainforest. Presented by TheatreGoose this is new solo writing from UK.
After surviving a fall from an exploding plane, Juliane, the daughter of two Amazon zoologists, must endure 11 days alone in the Peruvian rainforest as she fights for her life. Sophie Kean performs in and around three flight seats as the set with a moat of boxes from which she draws various props to help with the story telling – usually miniature figures. Director Emma Howlett keeps it moving in a way that suggest the two do not trust the text to carry the story. I yearned for more stillness and appeal to the imagination. I am not sure how useful the three chairs are – having fallen from the plane they are redundant in a literal sense to the story and have little poetic value.
Because the outcome of story is known - Juliane survives and even assists a rescue party to locate other survivors of the crash - it is a tricky thing to keep the stakes high. The production uses video projection, but it is so poorly delivered that the text cannot be read. It all feels clumsy. Adrenaline-fuelled days are recounted and there is some interest in the facts. Julianne knows the forest and its strange animals and has some survival sense. As the plane fell away from the seats at the start of the crash, for example, is a fascinating description explaining exactly why and how she survived the fall. Although her mother and the snoring man in the same row were ripped from their seats, Julianne’s seat belt held, and she fell to earth very much like a Sycamore seed pod. It is winged seed acts like a helicopter rotor. No matter the orientation of the seed as it detaches from the tree, it quickly self-orients and begins autorotating. This slows the seed’s descent to the ground, giving the seed more chance to be carried away by a passing breeze. And so, Julianne in the seat gently arrived atop a liana in a rainforest.
This is a traumatic story. It is an elegy to those lost - Julianne’s mother, and those fellow passengers who did not return.
The text is the production’s ultimate weakness. It begins with clarity around the chaos at the airport and gathering storm; the view from the plane and the humid and oppressive jungle where the palpable sounds of sex and death are ever present. What the play cannot capture is the interior for the characters minds, thoughts, doubts, nightmares. It is very logical and controlled where the title suggests we may be in for more of a ride.
I am very particular when it comes to solo, text-based performance and “Her Green Hell” didn’t cut it for me. But if you don’t know the story of survival and are not squeamish about hearing disaster stories then take a look.