Review: The Children, Royal Court

“At our time of life, we simply cannot deal with this shit”

It’s interesting to see the things that make ruffles in the theatrical establishment and those which pass by without comment. Vicky Featherstone’s reign at the Royal Court has not been without its uneven moments but the fact that The Children will be followed on the main stage by the return of Escaped Alone is indicative both of the daring nature of her programming in forefronting stories about older people, and also its success.

Lucy Kirkwood’s new play further ups the ante in making her protagonists sexual beings, her trio of retired scientists are battling not only the fallout from nuclear disaster but from the collision of their emotional lives. Nearly 40 years ago, Hazel and Rose were rivals for Robin and the play opens with the two women seeing each other for the first time since then. It’s a stilted, strange encounter, further complicated by Robin’s arrival. 

For though Hazel may not have seen Rose, it seems like her husband has seen his former lover more recently. And combined with the realities of living on the edge of a nuclear disaster zone, Kirkwood thus explores probing questions about generational responsibility, placing questions about the legacy that we leave for those to come against the value of living one’s life to the fullest regardless of the consequences.

James Macdonald’s production percolates slowly without ever really coming to the boil, but once you’re adjusted to the slightly off-kilter (literally so, in Miriam Buether’s set) and eerie atmosphere, there’s much to enjoy. Francesca Annis and Deborah Findlay contrast marvelously as the free-flowing Rose and the uptight Hazel, irrevocably connected by Ron Cook’s likable Robin – drunken dancing has never seemed quite so much fun, even on parsnip wine.

The debate the play provokes is fiercely thought-through, holding baby boomers up to the light and finding them wanting (in a similar way to Bartlett’s Love Love Love) and there’s something admirable about the surefootedness of Kirkwood’s position, as uncompromising as it might seem. Definitely one to see and mull over – how far would you go for The Children?

Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes (without interval)
Photo: Johan Persson

Booking until 14th January

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