by Ralph McAllister
(First published in the Kapiti and Coast Independent)
Every so often a play reaches our shores and reminds us of the power of theatre. ‘The Children’ by Lucy Kirkwood is one of those rarities. Hazel and Robin, retired nuclear physicists are visited by Rose, a former friend and colleague.
Nuclear meltdown in east England
The meeting takes place in a rented cottage, close to the nuclear plant where a meltdown, think Chernobyl, has devastated much of the surrounding east coast of England.
In the hilarious exchanges at the beginning of the summer evening we get to know this idiosyncratic trio, we warm to them while starting to realise that all is not what it seems.
Hazel measures her life out in tea spoons if not coffee ones and is devoted to her children and grandchildren.
Robin continues to look after the cows which have miraculously survived the disaster. Rose who has never married and has no children cannot simply be there to renew old ties.
So why is she there?
Mystery begins to preoccupy them and us. Things are not what they seem. Anger and anguish replace the jollity.
Kirkwood joins the long list of playwrights who have dared to risk tackling the major problems of the day, in this case, what are we leaving our children.
- Think Shelagh Delaney and “A Taste of Honey”
- Think Edward Albee and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.”
- Think Strindberg and A Dance of Death.
These are some of the links that sprang to mind while watching this magnificent evening in the theatre.
Brilliant performances in a classic drama
I cannot remember the last time I was so utterly absorbed at Circa. Catherine Downes, Peter Hambleton and Carmel McGlone give collective performances of shimmering brilliance.
Each reveals the agony and the guilt of living in this dystopian world.
Each wrenches every last bit of humour from the text. Each, finally, shows a courage that makes us proud of them. The guilt, of course, will remain.
More impact than Lanchester’s The Wall
Reading John Lanchester’s new novel The Wall helps explain the anger of the young towards the old in this none too brave new world. But this admirable novel never has the impact with quite the power of The Children.
The actors, if there were any meaning left in our awards system, would be recognised as a triumvirate of rare quality, a bit like the three in The Favourite.
But this production will go down as one of the very best in Circa’s history because of the sensitivity of Susan Wilson’s directorial skills, and her reconfiguration of the theatre to offer maximum intimacy for audience receptivity.
Her production team does her proud with John Hodgkin’s and Marcus McShane’s set and lighting designs complementing the actors’ work with rare visual beauty.
A triumph? Oh yes.
A play for young and old? Definitely.
The power of theatre? An example of the very best.