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Nuclear-powered drama asks profound questions

The Children, Criterion Theatre, Earlsdon, to Feb 2.

The kitchen clock is ticking. Well, at least the hands are moving, more likely to be powered by battery than old-fashioned clockwork. Or, indeed, electricity. Sources of power and the passage of time are among the many issues raised in Lucy Kirkwood’s play that made its debut at the Royal Court just three years ago. Explosively thought-provoking might be one way of describing it. The severe cracks in the wall either side of the clock are but the most obvious evidence that there has been an explosion at the nearby nuclear power station. A Geiger counter crackling alarmingly when waved over a grandchild’s toy scooter is more disturbingly symbolic, however. What’s the future for the child for whom that scooter should be an innocent means of transport? And what about his or her parents? The ones we see on stage are the grandparents, Robin and Hazel. Now in their mid-to-late 60s and both former nuclear scientists, they worked at the nearby power station. So did Rose, the only other member of the cast, who comes calling on her former colleagues, apparently for the first time in well over 30 years. It soon becomes evident that Robin and Rose have being seeing each other far more recently. Christine Ingall captures the sense of Hazel’s self-assurance and lust for life being undermined – not just by the explosion but the arrival of an unexpected threat to her status as a wife, mother and grandmother. The nuclear family, as well as nuclear power, is one of many themes of Kirkwood’s play. Rose may have been a femme fatale but she has no children of her own. No breasts of her own either, since cancer took its toll. She still smokes. And what’s more, she apparently wants to go back to work at the power station to try to help clear up the mess left by her generation to the ones that follow. Annie Gay takes on the part, exuding a complex mixture of wistfulness for the past and nervousness for the future, underscored by a “what-the-hell” sense that it’s all over. As for Brian Emeney, he plays the roguish Robin with a bravado broken up by bluster as he tries to cope not only with the consequences of having wife and lover glowering across a kitchen offering little in the way of home comforts. Salad and crackers for supper, washed down with parsnip wine. Yum-yum. Brian has also directed the play, albeit with the help of assistant director Christine Evans and a clever set design by Christopher Hernon. The Royal Court in Sloane Square, Chelsea, has never backed away from putting on complex new works exploring the way we live and the legacy we leave. Perhaps the same could be said about the Critrerion in slightly less fashionable Berkeley Road South, Earlsdon.

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