Entertainment Theatre & Arts

Saturday 19 October 2019

The Children: A radioactive love triangle provides food for thought

The Children

Gate Theatre, Dublin Until March 23

Intelligent work: McGinley, Mullen and Ryan in The Children. Photograph by Ros Kavanagh
Intelligent work: McGinley, Mullen and Ryan in The Children. Photograph by Ros Kavanagh

Katy Hayes

Lucy Kirkwood's nuclear-disaster play premiered at The Royal Court in London in 2016. A retired couple, both nuclear physicists, have retreated to a coastal house to distance themselves from the contamination zone surrounding the post-meltdown nuclear plant where they both used to work. Robin (Seán McGinley) is a frisky, flirty 68-year-old. His wife Hazel (Marie Mullen) is an earth mother in possession of a yoga mat. Into their retreat arrives Rose (Ger Ryan), an old college mate whom they haven't seen for 38 years. She too is a physicist and has been working in America.

There are two stories unfolding at once here. The first story is of mistakes made in designing the power plant so close to the sea and the question of these baby-boomer scientists' responsibility for that. And there is a second, more intimately focused story. Rose, too, had been Robin's lover in college, but it was Hazel who got pregnant and married him and went on to have four children with him. Having surrendered Robin to Hazel four decades prior, Rose is ready for a fightback. She, like the play, has two agendas: one scientific, one personal.

The action unfolds in real time, firstly with the two women alone, then joined by Robin who returns from his daily activity of sham-tending a small farm the couple have developed. All three performances are thrilling to watch; these brilliant actors inhabit every syllable of the text, delivering humour and pathos, performing disco routines and yoga and tricycling. Kirkwood's play is an outstandingly intelligent and original work, with its dual mandate of climate change and intimate love.

Director Oonagh Murphy steers skilfully between the global and the intimate, between the humorous and the confrontational. Sarah Bacon's ultra-realist box set creates a perfect air of holiday home shabbiness.

The play, however, doesn't sit comfortably in an Irish context. Given the dramatic form of pure realism, there is a major disjoint in the fact that the story has no basis in reality in a country that has no nuclear power stations. The audience must accept that this work would make more sense to a British crowd. It is hard to shake off the feeling that we are being treated to a provincial revival, albeit an excellent one, of a core contemporary British work.

Which raises the thorny issue of new writing. Why have we not got a sparkling new Irish play on the subject of the environment being given the royal treatment by these queens and king of Irish acting talent?


Woolly’s Quest: Inventive show has the tractor factor

Woolly's Quest

Axis, Ballymun, Touring Galway City, Cork city and Tralee until April 17

Branar, Téatar do Pháistí have created a fluffy new show about a curious sheep. Woolly, a small puppet, is rightly proud of her voluminous fleece. But when she is shorn for the first time in her life, she gets a shock. Her fleece is thrown into a trailer, attached to a tractor, and it heads off the farm. To where? Woolly sets off in pursuit. Sheep are not generally known for their individualism so Woolly is quite the outlier.

Director Marc Mac Lochlainn and the cast devised this inventive farmyard story. Performers Helen Gregg, Miquel Barcelo and Jonathan Gunning shepherd Woolly on her quest, clad in delightful sheepish costumes by Elaine Mears. Woolly encounters a few scary beasts, including a dog, some ominous crows and the "ghosts" of the woods, who turn out to be "goats". Suse Reisbech's puppet design fills the stage with a parade of creatures. An ingenious collection of oddball musical instruments accompany the songs which provoke great glee from the children. So did the section where the dog kept biting the actor's bum.

Aimed at kids aged 4+, this will keep the youngsters totally happy for its 45-minute duration. The show is bilingual, so there's plenty of simple Irish thrown in. Having fun while learning Irish? We've come a long way.

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