In a co-production with Melbourne Theatre Company, STC is presenting the Australian premiere of Lucy Kirkwood’s The Children. In stark contrast to the vastness of Chimerica, staged by STC in 2017, this piece comprises a single extended scene played out with three characters over two hours in a single space. The play had its world premiere at London’s Royal Court in November 2016 before transferring to New York, where it was staged by the esteemed Manhattan Theatre Club with its original cast.
Under the direction of Sarah Goodes, former STC resident director and now MTC associate director, the Australian production of The Childrenarrives at the Drama Theatre fresh from a successful run at Melbourne’s Southbank Theatre.
The Children is the story of retired nuclear physicists Hazel (Pamela Rabe) and Robin (William Zappa), who live a quiet life in a small cottage on England’s east coast. Not too long ago, the area was rocked by an earthquake and consequent tsunami, which devastated the local nuclear power plant. An exclusion zone has since been enforced around the plant and residents of the region face electricity rations. Now, Robin occupies his days by attending to some farming tasks while Hazel has taken up yoga. Both of them constantly have their attention diverted by their high maintenance adult daughter, Lauren.
But the seemingly ordinary existence Hazel and Robin have achieved is swiftly upended upon the arrival of Rose (Sarah Peirse). Rose is another nuclear physicist but neither Hazel nor Robin have seen her for decades. When Rose eventually reveals the motive for her visit, it forces Hazel and Robin to contemplate the future of their once-idyllic coastal town and what it will take to resurrect it as much as is possible. What must occur? What must be sacrificed? And who will – and should – take responsibility for making it happen?
In writing The Children, Kirkwood, a London playwright, has said it was her aim to craft an emotionally-driven work around the issue of climate change. Part of the story is inspired by events that occurred in 2011, following the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami that led to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant disaster in Japan. Like David Finnigan’s Kill Climate Deniers, recently presented by Griffin Theatre Company, The Children highlights the fact that appreciating precisely what is required to affect meaningful change is terrifying.
This isn’t a fast-moving piece, but it’s engrossing, owing to Kirkwood’s wonderful, naturalistic and often witty dialogue, as well as the tremendous performances of the trio. Rabe reinforces her reputation as one of the finest actors on Australian stages today through her nuanced portrayal of Hazel – a highly intelligent, outwardly self-possessed woman, doggedly working to ensure some semblance of a life post-disaster. Peirse gives an understated performance as Rose, a character vastly different to Hazel and one who’s lead a far less conventional life relative to her generation. Rose is worldly and has lived much more in the moment than her friends, but she too projects an image that appears to somewhat belie what is going on inside. Zappa is hugely convincing as Hazel’s husband, who also has had a relationship with Rose. While Robin continues to go through the motions, he seems far less invested in self-preservation than his wife.
Goodes has succeeded in realising a world where words and actions feel organic, and Kirkwood’s strong text is properly foregrounded. Nothing is rushed and it’s evident she has worked with the actors on the delivery of fully-fledged characters. The result is a riveting and stimulating piece.
Not only does Elizabeth Gadsby’s rendering of the interior of the cottage demonstrate remarkable attention to detail, but it also ensures that, coupled with Paul Jackson’s beautiful lighting choices, a palpable sense of the world outside – including the sea and hazardous radioactive clouds – is evoked. Composer and sound designer Steve Francis has also played an integral role here. Without giving too much away, the thoughtful combination of light and sound in the piece’s final moments creates one of its standout moments.
Nothing about The Children is hysterical or out of the realms of possibility. And in a world not only dealing with the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster, but continuing to grapple with the consequences of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear plant accident, what Kirkwood envisages is frighteningly present. It compels us to confront what must be done when disaster strikes, including the high price it will likely demand.
THE CHILDREN – SEASON DETAILS
Season: Playing now until 19 May, 2018
Venue: Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House
Tickets: www.sydneytheatre.com.au or by phone on (02) 9250 1777