Friday, 2 December 2016

Review The Children


The Children
by Lucy Kirkwood

Even Little Boy Gets Old
https://royalcourttheatre.com/

 In 1945 the nuclear bomb which devastated Hiroshima was famously called Little Boy. Whatever the morality or justification for its use, it initiated the start of the nuclear age, the source of seemingly limitless electricity. And then it came back to bite us with disquiet over the building of reactors in the Middle East, part of the road to war.

The retired nuclear scientists in Lucy Kirkwood's new one-act, nearly two-hour play, The Children, directed by James McDonald, have more immediate concerns. Robin (Ron Cook), who now farms, is a little boy grown old who is apparently intent on saving his cows.

He and his wife, earth mother Hazel (Deborah Findlay), who met in the lab, now rent, amidst power cuts and cliff erosion, a coastal cottage. Why? They've been forced to leave their farm - and the cows with their soulful brown eyes - after an earthquake and tidal wave causes a Fukushima-type nuclear disaster irradiating the surrounding area.

Ron returns every now and then, at some risk, to the farm in the exclusion zone, he says, to tend the cows while mother of four Hazel has settled down to her life, listening on a wind up radio to Radio 4, continuing with her yoga, fielding telephone calls from their seemingly needy 30-something eldest daughter and dealing efficiently with the lack of power.

Even this strange existence can become routine in the golden glow of a basic but comfortable country kitchen in which we meet first Hazel and an unexpected visitor, glamorous childless Rose (Francesca Annis). Rose has returned from the United States and is looking up her former colleagues.  Only blood is trickling down her top.

It turns out when she came up behind Hazel, the latter inadvertently bashed her on the nose. An accident but it sets up a tense dynamic between the two women who, it emerges, have a past rivalry.

We enjoyed the sparky dialogue which provided plenty of laughs from the start of the play with a witty and touching performance from Deborah Findlay as the wife who finds her routine and peace of mind shattered by the arrival of Rose.

There were times it felt overly long, as if there were an agreement to go from A to B to C etc, one point to another and some of the bits in between felt a little like padding. The relationship with almost middle-aged daughter Lauren, whose character and conversations are reported rather than verified by the audience, finally seems introduced, only to be short-circuited. 

Still, there was definitely enough in it to make us wonder whether Rose, even after supposedly revealing her reasons for surprising her erstwhile colleagues was far more deceitful and  had different plans. And to have question marks over her exact current relationship with Robin - neatly played by Ron Cook.

We only have Rose's word that her health problems needed surgery and were not the cosmetic vanity and fear of an ageing single woman. Indeed, for a play which does indeed have two juicy parts for women, the gender politics  could be interpreted as retro as the country kitchen - a male bull and two cows circling him.

Yet we did sense an intriguing incipient theme of fake, imitation and reproduction, especially in the final moments, between Rose and Hazel. It's an amber/green light for a play which got somewhere in the end with many sweet moments.

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