Royal Court Theatre, London – until 14 January 2017
GUEST CRITIC LUKE JONES CHEERS KIRKWOOD AT THE COURT
The Children are the focus of this play, in their absence. Instead we have The Pensioners. Parents and a non-parent sinking beneath the expectation of and the responsibility to the younger generation.But not in a fluffy way. Their poor work laid the foundation for a disaster which killed actual people.
Meaning that there are, thankfully, no monologues, no distributional analysis on wealth and social mobility. No didactic speeches about responsibility or consequence. The Royal Court has un-Guardian’d itself a little and delivered something far punchier. The idle chat of unoccupied minds in the midst of life and death.
Lucy Kirkwood, who has only just surfaced from beneath the mountain of awards thrown at her for her hit Chimerica, makes quietly tragic work out of this lightly comic three-hander. A desperately basic cottage with no running water and intermittent electricity is the new home of two retired nuclear scientists.
Robin and Hazel are simple, local folk it would seem. He makes wine and looks after cows, she does yoga: I’m sorry to say we all know a Robin and a Hazel. We might even have been born to them. They have a long, if not pleasantly vanilla, life ahead. But the arrival of an old friend/old flame could see them clock off earlier than expected.
Their sleepy village is actually an anxiously bereaved one: Kirkwood quite masterfully reveals through seemingly inconsequential chat that the nuclear plant they all worked in was the source of an incident. Many died, and those who lived were pushed aside to the edge of an exclusion zone.
Sounds heavy. But it’s sieved out slowly with a gentle pace and a Victoria Wood vocabulary. Any talk of nuclear fusion, crumbling relationships or the feasibility of wind farms is pricked with gags about the Crystal Maze, tracker mortgages and the best shrubs for north-facing gardens. It’s properly comically conversational patter – a dream to listen to.
James Macdonald has directed an unfussy production which has the focus but lightness of touch of a television play. The three performances are incredibly clean, and natural. Francesca Annis, as the straighter and burdened outsider Rose, is an excellent elderly shadow of a once go-getting woman. Deborah Findlay, as the fretting Hazel, takes what could be incredibly sitcom and makes it genuine and satisfyingly charming. On the night Ron Cook let the side down slightly. He stood for 2 actual whole Earth minutes unable to remember lines. Twice. The blanks were only cut short by the cry of a stage prompt. You could feel this Chelsea audience scrunch into their seats, paralysed by that special pain you only get when something as juicy as this happens exactly at the time you’re not allowed to tweet. But we survived.
In the play there were some clear ‘ideas’ rattling around but it was far more interested in the characters than the message: humans not op-ed columns. What were the three to do now? not what should energy policy have been to prevent this? If you liked The Flick at the National, if you like hearing the sound of actual conversation instead of what David Hare wishes they’d said, then think of The Children.
Box Office 020 7565 5000
Until 14th January