Review: Mosquitoes, National Theatre

“I can be anything I want. 
I can be a Hufflepuff if I want.”

Just a quickie for this as it closes this week (I had the unfortunate accident of being in Vienna for its press night). Lucy Kirkwood’s Mosquitoes has been a sell-out success for the National, packing out the Dorfman perhaps initially for its deluxe casting of two Olivias – Colman and Williams – but latterly due to some superb word of mouth as well. And given that this is largely a play about two sisters who can’t help but bicker all their lives, it is brilliantly well cast.

Williams is Alice, a scientist working at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN and Colman is Jenny, a medical sales rep living in Luton. Nominally, the former is a success, the latter a fuckup, an idea reinforced by Jenny arriving in Geneva to recuperate from a devastating personal loss. But Kirkwood’s writing is far too nuanced to let that be all, she thoroughly interrogates our preconceptions as she whirls through a universe-ful of ideas including anti-vaxxers, revenge porn, society’s inherent misogyny, science and religion and much more besides.

If anything, this is where Mosquitoes is perhaps weakest, in its sheer surfeit of content. It is undoubtedly nice to be able to wrestle with a complex play with so much within it, but Rufus Norris’ production has a lot of wrangling to do and the resulting abrupt shifts in tone take some getting used to, particularly in the way the strong sense of humour is cheek by jowl with the harrowing plot developments that drive the narrative as the sisters deal with each other and the other family members drawn into their orbit.

The depth of this sibling relationship is a real joy though, repeatedly tested over the three years of the play as scientific intelligence proves no match for emotional candour, as the rigours of fact are severely challenged by the foghorn of feelings, suggesting that we might just be best surrendering to the unpredictability of it all. The introduction of universal theories as interludes adds to the momentous feel of Kirkwood’s writing, aided by Katrina Lindsay’s design, Paule Constable’s superb lighting and Paul Arditti’s sound to create a superb piece of theatre. 

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Brinkhoff-Mogenburg
Booking until 28th September

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