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The Children

by on 15 July 2021

Generation Gap and Other Current Problems

The Children

by Lucy Kirkwood

The Questors, at the Judy Dench Playhouse, Ealing until 17th July

Review by David Stephens

On Monday evening, I witnessed my own electrical disaster when, following the torrential rain and resulting flash floods, and while on call as an Electrical Engineer, I spent the entire night pumping water from a number of live substations.  It was, therefore, off the back of a sleepless night and with a pair of extremely heavy eyelids that I set out to attend Tuesday night’s performance of The Children at The Questors Theatre in Ealing.   My main concern was not, therefore, whether I’d enjoy the play, but, rather, whether I’d make it to the end without falling into a deep, and potentially very noisy, slumber.  However, I needn’t have worried. 

Upon entering the lobby, we were all warmly welcomed by the friendly front-of-house staff who informed us that, due to Covid restrictions, tonight’s programme was available only in an e-format and kindly helped us to download it to our phones.  I suspect that, for many of us, this was our first visit to a theatre for many, many months, and it was both pleasing and reassuring to witness the professional manner in which the management team, front of house staff and ushers dealt with the Covid red-tape, with no detriment to the enjoyment of the performance. 

Once seated, we were immediately greeted with the sight of a beautifully crafted set, dimly lit by a single oil lamp, sat on a kitchen table at centre stage.  It became immediately apparent, from this highly detailed set, that one was sitting in the kitchen of a quaint English cottage, complete with flagstone floor, traditional cottage door, wooden beams and pitched roof.  Indeed, at first glance, one could be forgiven for thinking that the play was set in the 50’s or 60’s.  However, as the eyes adjust, it becomes apparent from the well placed properties, such as the insulated travel-mug, electric kettle and water filter, that it is set in more modern times.  A well-positioned fishing buoy, placed downstage left, also suggesting that this cottage is close to the sea, possibly even on a remote cliff-top somewhere.  This feast of information had obviously been very carefully considered and praise must go to the set designer, Alex Marker and to the thirteen-strong team of constructors and painters for their attention to detail and quality of build.  When the audience has the opportunity to sit and examine a set prior to the start of a play, it really must be able to stand-up to that level of scrutiny, and this set certainly does that. 

As the lights were dimmed at the start of the play, it was pleasing to observe that the centrally placed oil lamp had been cleverly rigged into the theatre’s lighting system and controlled from the lighting box.  Indeed, as the play progressed, we observed that all ‘candles’ and ‘oil-lamps’, complete with highly convincing ‘flames’, were also controlled centrally.  Credit to the Lighting Designer, Martin Walton, for this technical achievement, which was accomplished without a wire in sight.  Martin is also listed in the programme as the Lighting and Sound Operator and, in this capacity, gave a flawless technical performance.  The play also contains a number of sound effects, which were well planned by the Sound Designer, James Connor – my particular favourite being the start-up sound of the Windows operating system, played when a laptop computer was used by one of the characters, displaying excellent attention to detail.  One very minor criticism might be the sound level for the ‘crashing waves’ effect.  Considering there is no sound of waves at all when the cottage door is closed, the sound effect seemed disproportionately loud, and therefore a little too obvious, when the door was opened and disappeared immediately again once shut.  However, this is a very minor point and, overall, the sound levels were excellent and the sound effects were well conceived and perfectly executed. 

This one-set play opens with the unexpected, and not all-together welcome, arrival of Rose (Louise Templeton) at the remote cottage of her ex-colleagues Hazel (Pamela Major) and Robin (Simon Taylor).  We learn that Robin is out tending to his cows on their smallholding, so Hazel is left to entertain their surprise visitor until his return.  From their early, somewhat awkward exchange, we learn that the characters are recently retired nuclear physicists, who formerly worked together in a local power station.  A recent incident has led to a radioactive leak, resulting in the contamination of its immediate surroundings and pollution of water courses and land.  As the power station is currently off-line, the area has been subjected to cyclic load restrictions, forcing residents to live without electricity for most of the day and resulting in a very basic existence – hence the candles and oil lamps. 

I have previously heard this play described as ‘post-apocalyptic’, however the playwright, Lucy Kirkwood, cleverly avoids the use of stereotypes such as radio and television silence and bails of uranium-rich tumbleweed blowing across a deserted radiation-riven wasteland, favouring instead to paint a far more realistic picture of the aftermath of nuclear contamination.  Heaven forbid that such an accident should ever befall humanity again, but through this thought-provoking play, we are forced to consider life in the aftermath of such a catastrophe and to consider whether we would have the courage and strength of character required to attempt to make things right.  The play is a three-hander and all three actors were outstanding in their portrayals.  In her character, Louise Templeton plays the seemingly carefree, ‘Rose’ who, at first glance at least, and has never seen much sense in marriage or settling down, opting instead to spend the last 38 years jobbing around America and bouncing from one failed romance to the next.  Indeed, in their early exchanges, Rose seems to show a certain contempt for Robin and Hazel’s happy marriage which, to her great surprise, has resulted in four children.  However, we soon realise the reason for her feeling this way and, through Louise’s skilful portrayal, begin to see the vulnerability and fragility of her character.  Once she reveals the true reason for her return, and her determination to try to put things right, one cannot help but warm to her character.   Louise’s acting talent allows us to see these two distinct sides of ‘Rose’ and, despite her character’s somewhat questionable past, Louise’s well measured performance, draws the right level of sympathy and admiration from the audience.  This character is juxtaposed superbly by Hazel, Robin’s yoga-loving wife, played impeccably by Pamela Major.  Living on a diet of salad, crackers and yoga, Hazel is determined that she and Roger will live long and happy retirements, distancing themselves from both the power station and from any fall-out… nuclear or otherwise.  Pamela played the role superbly well and I was moved by her touching portrayal of a highly intelligent, professional woman, who was clearly scarred by their shared history and the anxiety and stress that slowly grew within her throughout the performance.  Also excelling in his role, was Simon Taylor, playing Hazel’s closet-despondent husband, Robin, who, in an attempt to maintain his façade of normality, crosses the exclusion line on a daily basis to ‘tend to’ his small herd of ill-fated cows and to pick fresh produce for dinner.  Soon, Robin and Rose are given the opportunity of some time alone together and their shared past is revealed.  Throughout the course of the play, we see three distinct characters in Robin; the happy-go-lucky husband, determined to maintain the status quo; a man steeped in self-loathing; and the man torn between the genuine love for his wife and family, and his duty to face up to the consequences of their shared past failings.  Simon’s strong acting ability takes the audience on a journey with his character, and, by the end of the play I found myself liking and respecting him for making this ultimate decision.

The Children is beautifully written, lacing a very dark and thought-provoking theme with great humour and well timed comedy moments.  Credit to Roger Beaumont for his interpretation of the play and for directing such an effective piece of theatre in these difficult, Covid-restricted times.  Congratulations, Questors, on a superb production and thank you for a thoroughly enjoyable return to live theatre. 

David Stephens, July 2021

Photography by Robert Vass and Evelina Plonytė

3 Comments
  1. Robert Vass permalink

    Thanks for the great review. I’m Robert Vass, the photographer. I just wanted to say that one of the photos is by Evelina Plonytė and if she could also be credited I’d be grateful. Many thanks.

    • Hello Robert,

      Many thanks for drawing our attention to your fellow photographer. I did edit the review this morning to include Evelina in the credits.

      May I take the opportunity to say how much we appreciate your photographs. They hit the points of interest in the play that make striking images and are always beautifully composed. So, thank you for that.

      Kindest
      Keith Wait
      Editor

      • Robert Vass permalink

        Thank you! Much appreciated.

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