“Are you my father?”
After the Menier’s version which starred Timothy and Sam West, the Nuffield uses a similar conceit to cast another father and son duo in Caryl Churchill’s A Number. This time, it is John and Lex Shrapnel who delve into the murky world of cloning, medical ethics and paternal responsibility but it is Tom Scutt’s unique set design that proves to be the most striking thing about Michael Longhurst’s production.
Divided into four, the audience are seated around an observation chamber – the mirrored glass of which allows us to see in but not the actors to see out. Furthermore, they are reflected multiple times, echoing the themes of splintered self and inescapable examination. For all its technical brilliance though, it is a design which sterilizes an already clinical exercise, leaving one impressed rather than amazed.
Churchill’s play was written at a time when cloning was much more of an issue du jour so it is all the more remarkable that Longhurst has managed to subtly shifts its arguments to a more metaphorical than literal basis, playing up the ideas of responsibility – a man who cloned his son many time yet left them all believing they were the only one – and the shattered realisations of a generation who can no longer rely on what their parents had.
John Shrapnel’s Salter becomes increasingly worn down and haunted by responsibility as the full extent of his actions slowly becomes clear but it is Lex Shrapnel who really impresses, imbuing each of his three replicas with entirely different physical and emotional languages, really reinforcing the playwright’s views on nature versus nurture when it comes to identity. I just wish it moved me more.