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. Nonetheless she still smokes.
What’s more, she apparently wants to go back to work at the power station and 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.
Review by Nick Le Mesurier
“Retired people are like nuclear power station: we like to live by the sea.” So says Hazel (Christine Ingall), one of three retired nuclear scientists to Rose (Annie Gay), who has turned up unexpectedly at their remote cottage to disrupt the lives of her and her husband Robin (Brian Emeney). The backstory forms the substance of Lucy Kirkwood’s award-winning play, 'The Children', but it’s the consequence that carries the punch. It’s one that says much about the responsibility of an older generation to a younger.
The danger for these three comes only partly from within their relationship. We soon learn that Rose once had an affair with Robin and that some of the old flame still burns. But that’s not the reason she’s there, though it helps her mission. She needs both Robin and Hazel for something more heroic, more terrible than a mere tryst. But we only gradually come to learn what it is.
It’s very tempting to give away the secret, because so much of the play hangs on it. But to do so would spoil the pleasure and the significance of this slow-burning drama. Instead I’ll point to the slowly mounting sense of tension that builds to a crescendo as the relationship between the three develops. I’ll give a nod to the strange world the characters inhabit, a post-apocalyptic world that has been not so much shattered as distorted by an explosion at the nearby nuclear power station where they once worked. The characters now struggle at the limits of the exclusion zone. But this is no 'Mad Max' scenario, and there is none of the cold apocalypse of Cormac McCarthy’s 'The Road'. Instead there is bread and salad for lunch, the phones work, the taxis still run, and there is Radio 4 on the wind-up radio. But there is danger nevertheless. A Geiger counter is now part of the regular household equipment, and on the smallholding, to which Robin goes daily, his work is to bury their beloved cattle.
The play would be extremely ponderous were it not for some fine characterisation and some sharp dialogue and lively performances. Brian Emeney’s direction nicely balances the middle-class sensibilities that are now a vital means of preserving some sense of normalcy against the catastrophe they are now facing. Christine Ingall’s Hazel in particular engages us with her sensible, slightly motherly instincts pushed to their limits by the unwelcome intrusion from Rose and her mission. She shows herself both funny and deeply torn by the demands placed upon her. Annie Gay’s Rose is cool, almost too cool, but has already had her own brush with death and has little to lose. I would have liked her to be a bit tougher in her character to create a greater contrast with the other two, but she showed her character to have courage at the end. Brian Emeney plays Robin with an outwardly strong but inwardly malleable sensibility that is seduced by two powerful attractions, both of which will have irreversible consequences for him as he makes a choice that is nobler and more selfish than anything he has done before.
A long three-hander like this requires the actors to have a rapport that is so deep it is instinctive and uncanny. Perhaps because I saw it on its first night, I couldn’t help but feel it wasn’t quite there. Nevertheless, it’s a fascinating play honourably delivered and with a great deal to say that is prescient to the responsibilities that an older, and in some ways much more privileged generation, has to a younger one that must cope with the consequences of their elders’ misplaced confidence.