Review: The Children at Chesil Theatre
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David Cradduck watches the love triangle unravel at Chesil Theatre’s ‘The Children’.
Images: Javaid Akhtar
Chesil Theatre’s latest production is an emotional and thought provoking three-hander by the playwright Lucy Kirkwood.
Still in her mid 30s, she has already penned a string of award winning plays including ‘Tinderbox’ and the equally disturbing ‘Chimerica’, an extreme global political comment on the breakdown in US/Asian relations (recently updated into a four part TV drama for Channel 4).
Two nuclear physicists in their 60s, Hazel and Robin, live in an isolated cottage on the East coast in the aftermath of a disastrous meltdown at the local power plant where they both used to work.
Hazel practices yoga, Robin farms, life appears to be relatively normal even though a Geiger counter is at hand to check for radiation.
Of their four children they are still very much in touch with their needy eldest daughter. Into this precarious but apparently settled existence arrives a catalyst to another disaster in the form of a fellow nuclear physicist Rose, ex lover of Robin, who turns up unexpectedly after nearly forty years.
The dialogue twists and turns and we start to wonder why Rose has really come back to disrupt their lives.
It is not, it has to be said, the cheeriest of tales but of course it was not written as such. Although set in a post-apocalyptic future when a catastrophic nuclear accident has altered life forever, it is not the usual stereotypical view of a dystopian future.
The Fukushima-inspired setting provides the backdrop to a very real human story and the fact that life goes on regardless with its intrigues, secrets and affairs.
Yes, the setting has relevant things to say about climate change, the price we pay in the future for our self-satisfaction in the present. But it is also a personal reflection of relationships, having children and our reasons for so doing (or not) and the uncertain future we all look forward to – if we’re lucky enough to live that long.
In Kirkwood’s own words in a 2016 interview, she says: “I wanted to write . . . about how difficult it will be to make the changes we need to, about how overwhelming that might feel – an awakening perhaps, but a terrifying one”.
‘The Children’ is a little ponderous, but Kirkwood deliberately takes her time to let the love triangle unravel, and to great effect.
The script is oh-so-clever; dealing with the darkest of subjects it makes light of them. At its bleakest it is full of witty lines. Comedy is there in droves but it’s the kind of humour that has you squirming and laughing at the same time.
Director Lisbeth Rake says of her choice of play for this Chesil production: “I was attracted to the play first and foremost by the quality of the writing. [Lucy Kirkwood] has already established herself as ‘the finest playwright of her generation’.
Her ability to portray older people not as geriatric playing bingo and slipping into senility but as vibrant, sexual people who have strong emotions and hopes for a future, is staggering”.
A three hander is always going to be tricky. There are no hiding places with this production (especially in the intimacy of Chesil’s bijou theatre) and every expression, every sideways glance, every pin dropped is amplified.
No need for voice projection in this one, every word (including a couple of fitting and in-context profanities) can be heard without any effort.
Mary Mitchell as Hazel, Heather Bryant as Rose and Peter Andrews as Robin are flawless and have obviously rehearsed this piece to the point of perfection. No dropped lines, no awkward pauses (in fact to be really picky I would possibly have preferred a few more stony silences and talking across one another to increase the dramatic effect) and wonderful acting.
These three smashed it from start to finish and although it’s not the shortest of plays not once did it feel as though it had overstayed its welcome.
A simple but effective set with a Welsh dresser worthy of any House and Garden article, lighting and sound effect plots that are subtle but very much part of the ensemble and minimal props make this an actor’s piece.
Everything revolves around them, what faux pas they are going to make, what revelations we are about to hear and how, as the plot unravels, they are going to react to one another.
This is seriously good theatre played with conviction and feeling. I guarantee that by the end of the run the trio of cast members will be mentally exhausted.
Lisbeth Rake says she has worked hard with the cast to encourage them to bring their own ideas to the piece:
“They now own Rose, Hazel and Robin which makes them comfortable and confident. Once the run starts a director can only watch and hope – a bit like seeing a four-year-old go off to school”. A lovely way of putting it and I hope that she is proud of what she has achieved in her role as director-parent. She certainly should be.
The Children runs at Chesil Theatre until Saturday 25th May with a special talk- back session with the cast and director after the performance on Tuesday 21st.
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