Lucy Kirkwood’s latest play The Children begins with a pitch black uncertainty. A roaring rumble intensifies and a bloodied-nose woman emerges from the darkness. At first it feels sinister, as if one has something to do with the other but the tension is quickly broken by another woman, fussing and apologetically mopping the blood stained top. ‘It was just feeling you come up behind me, I sort of, I panicked’… and bopped her on the nose.
Kirkwood’s play continues in much the same way, just as we quickly build conclusions, Kirkwood undoes them. After years apart, Rose appears on Hazel’s doorstep, somewhere on the east coast. The two woman catch up over a cuppa in the kitchen, filling each other in on their children, lovers and lives and it all feels seemingly normal. Only, they’re retired nuclear physicists, the drinking water is stored in a plastic tank and the electric comes on after dark.
Hazel appears to have adapted well to this way of living, after a catastrophic incident plunged the local nuclear power station into a disaster zone. She lives with her husband, just outside the exclusion area, surviving on salads, yoga and his home-brewed wine. They seem fairly content with life.
As conversations go deeper into the night, their relationships become clearer and the arrival of their distant friend reveals a love triangle between Hazel, Robin and Rose. There’s a history and Rose uses this to her advantage to pin the real reason why she has appeared – to return to the power station.
The nuclear aspect is barely a focus, merely the foundations to base the more pressing point of the responsibilities of the older generation and how to make amends. ‘When we have a picnic or, camping we don’t just clear up our own litter, we go around and pick up other people’s too.’ This is the clincher for Rose to appeal to Hazel’s better nature and it’s the simmering romance with Robin, she uses to recruit him to join her at the station.
But everything always comes back to the children. Hazel and Robin’s lives revolve around theirs, conversations with Rose centre around them, and it’s Rose’s main objective to return to the power station – to spare the lives of those with young families currently working there. Children are the focal point, even the fact that Rose is childless is a topic of discussion.
Francesca Annis, Ron Cook and Deborah Findlay give brilliant performances as the retired trio, with a wonderful mix of humour and drama that keeps you gripped throughout. Findlay displays an admirable strength in Hazel, who doesn’t suffer fools gladly and won’t allow herself to be the butt of any joke. She’s utterly kick-ass, as Rose tries to unsettle the ground beneath her and she truly values her family and homely life. She’s grounded in comparison to a reckless Rose.
In Kirkwood’s dystopia, she has presented a recognisable world, which perhaps makes it all the more frightening. Miriam Buether’s unassuming kitchen set feels warm and is bathed in a beautiful twilight hue but is slightly tilted, off-setting the balance and adding an air of uncertainty. The play slowly creeps towards the finale but it’s one that lingers long afterwards, thinking of the repercussions from society today, like a rippling wave gaining momentum.
(Photo courtesy of Johan Perrson)