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The Children

by on 20 September 2021

When the Lights Go Out

The Children

by Lucy Kirkwood

Richmond Shakespeare Society at the Mary Wallace Theatre until 25th September

Review by Patrick Adams

Richmond Shakespeare Society presented a fine play, The Children, by Lucy Kirkwood, ‘who has firmly established herself as a leading playwright of her generation, the writer of a series of savagely funny, highly intelligent and beautifully observed plays that tackle the pressing issues of our times’.  The Children displayed all these qualities in dealing with the effects of nuclear contamination.

The play, directed by Michelle Hood, is set in the kitchen cum dining room of a remote cottage on the coast, with the kitchen area set along the back wall, having a central window overlooking an effective view of the sea and a rocky promontory holding back surging waves.   The whole area is rather ramshackle, in keeping with the story that unfolds. 

It opens with the arrival of Rose, portrayed by Susan Reoch, in the cottage owned by her ex-colleagues Hazel and Robin, played by Clare Cooper and Vaughn Pierce.  We learn that they are recently retired nuclear physicists who formerly worked together in a local power station, where an incident has led to a radioactive leak.

Rose’s quest, we eventually discover, is to persuade Hazel and Robin to return with her to the power station and endeavour to make that power station safe.  She believes that the younger generation of scientists, like children, have not yet developed the expertise necessary for such a dangerous operation.  Hazel is determined that she and Robin have nothing to do with it and must stay free and able to look forward to a happy retirement and to care for their children. 

The emotional twists and turns of their previous and present relationships grip our attention from start to finish by excellent and well matched performances.  One way to judge a character is to see if you care for them whether the person portrayed is good or bad.  I did care deeply for all three.

Rose’s apparent initial calm, attempting to make her visit appear as if to just meet up with old friends to slowly revealing a passion for Robin and then her real reason, to persuade them to go with her on a dangerous mission, was all conveyed  with subtlety and quiet sincerity.

Robin’s opening engaging jocularity and enjoyment with his mode of life to slowly descend into anger at having to clear up all the mess he sees around him to deal with love and family and, at the same time hiding the fact of his terminal illness, was touchingly portrayed.

And Hazel’s manic approach to life, centred on salad, yoga and her children (roughly in that order) gave Clare Cooper an opportunity to demonstrate her ability to present a character almost on the spectrum.  At times one wanted to shake her, laugh with her, then hold her.

The play ends with their decision to return, and the previous ticking of a Geiger counter around Robin tells us they will not be with us much longer.

I found the opening of each scene a little awkward.  It is not possible to ‘black out’ the stage, so we saw the actors enter then stand like statues waiting for a rather lengthy musical introduction to end before the lights were raised and they could start the action.  And perhaps some change to the positioning of the actors would be beneficial.

One thing intrigued me.  Backstage, audience left, was a brilliant and dominantly shining silver flexible pipe, going from the base of a kitchen fitment up to the top of the wall and presumably through to the outside.  Throughout the production I was expecting it to have some vital significance, but it was never mentioned.  It was probably to do with the very dodgy plumbing and the hilarious number ones and number twos talked about in the play.

Patrick Adams, July 2021

Photography by Simone Germaine

One Comment
  1. Interesting comments of what comes across as an interesting play.

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