The Children at the Royal Court Theatre
How can one learn to want less? Less love, less life, less of the everyday items we take for granted. As a world we are facing such choices in a future so close it can be called the present. Lucy Kirkwood seems acutely aware of the personal weight of these concerns, exploring the nuclear disaster of The Children through the relationships of three old colleagues.
The play sees Rose (Francesca Annis) turn up at the cottage of Hazel (Deborah Findlay) and Robin (Ron Cook), who last saw their uninvited guest so long ago they though she was dead. Perched on the edge of a radiation exclusion zone, Miriam Buether’s coastal kitchen comes across as both idyll and prison, bathed in the warmth of a setting sun that; thanks to Peter Mumford’s stunning design, it almost feels like a threat given the events that have brought Rose to the home of her friends.
It is a play of difficult questions and very few answers. What constitutes old in a time when natural decay has been banished in favour of ever-extending life? How does one confront the ethical dilemma of having multiple children in an age of rapidly depleting resources? Are there parallels between parental responsibility and the most extreme form of generational duty imaginable? And, simply, when is enough enough?
Rather than philosophise, Kirkwood places these questions in the hands of her characters and the delicate direction of James McDonald. The languid pace and delicious conversational humour of the opening allows the brilliant Findlay and Annis time to explore the rhythms of their dusty relationship. Between the two women lies an amiability both genuine and false, a tone that gradually begins to shift as the wine is poured and truths begin to out. Cook, meanwhile, has such an ingratiating presence on stage that even an awkward case of line-forgetfulness couldn’t derail the charms of his cooped-up cad.
While dystopias, in a variety of different guises, are very much on trend – in fact the Royal Court has programmed two such plays this year, Caryl Churchill’s Escaped Alone and Alistair McDowell’s X – they rarely touch on the aging process at all, let alone with the level of frankness put forth by Kirkwood. It is remarkable that an author of such relative youth has so fully captured the voice of an older group of people; for it is rare to see the over-60s portrayed as sexual, or unsentimental, or brimming with vitality in the way Kirkwood allows her creations.
The Children is on at the Royal Court Theatre from 24rd November 2016 to 14th January 2017, for further information or to book a visit here.