By Lucy Kirkwood
Nottingham Playhouse

Nottingham Playhouse is on a roll. It’s only weeks since it produced David Haig’s adaptation of the Philip K Dick short story Minority Report—a sci-fi tale in which the police arrest suspects before they can commit a crime. It was a marvellous piece of theatre, and the Playhouse looks as though it will have similar success with its latest production.

Lucy Kirkwood’s The Children is set in a time when an accident at a power station has left the world on the brink of destruction. The difference is that, unlike Minority Report, Kirkwood’s play shows us what appears to be a normal world in which people still go about their everyday lives despite any uncertainty they may be facing.

The Children takes place on the east coast of England in a cottage owned by retired nuclear physicists Hazel and Robin. It is on the edge of an exclusion zone after the accident, which has echoes of Chernobyl. But there is far more to the play than a dialogue about science and scientists’ responsibilities.

The appearance of Rose, who visits the couple after a gap of 38 years, brings up happy as well as painful memories of a previous existence. It leads to a fascinating discussion about different lifestyle choices and why people make them.

Clive Mantle (Robin) and Sally Dexter (Rose). Above: Caroline Harker (Hazel) and Clive Mantle (Robin). Images: Manuel Harlan

On the one hand, you have Hazel and Robin who made a conscious decision to raise a family and have four grown-up children. They continue with their mundane lives despite the nuclear accident, Hazel practising yoga and looking after herself while Robin cares for their farm animals and drinks too much home-made wine.

Contrast them with Rose, who spent many years in the United States and is childless, carefree and combustible. She had an affair with Robin a long time ago, so does she want to rekindle their relationship or does she have a deeper reason for her unexpected appearance?

The three members of the cast are all superb. Caroline Harker is completely natural as Hazel, always concerned about her children even though they are old enough to make their own decisions, not afraid to speak her mind yet frustrated by the conditions she is living in. “I don’t know how to want less,” she poignantly confesses.

Clive Mantle excels as womanizer Robin, who cares dearly for Hazel and their family. His laidback attitude to their surreal situation—they have a choice of salad or crackers for dinner—turns to understandable belligerence, sarcasm and virtual hopelessness.

Clive Mantle (Robin), Caroline Harker (Hazel) and Sally Dexter (Rose)

Sally Dexter as Rose is calm and takes life as it comes. Credibly, she introduces a dilemma that causes them to make life-changing decisions and reassess what they want out of life.

When Lucy Kirkwood’s play premièred in 2016 at the Royal Court Theatre, it ran at just under two hours. Here, Kirsty Patrick Ward’s production is one hour 40 minutes long without an interval. It has a good pace and never drags. Amy Jane Cook’s set is excellent: a basic kitchen of the cottage which is on the brink of falling into the sea.

A naturalistic and at times humorous script makes The Children a thought-provoking and meritorious production.

* This review originally appeared on the British Theatre Guide website


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