Review: Lucy Kirkwood's THE CHILDREN at the Jerwood Theatre Downstairs, Royal Court

I have an intense passion for one-scene plays and I also have a love for Lucy Kirkwood, so it's safe to say the The Children was a natural fit for me. There is something so unique about Kirkwood's way of seeing life and she brings that to the stage perfectly in anything she touches and The Children is no exception. It's a play that tells a unique story in such a clever way, and it works oh so well.

Kirkwood's story is a strange one to say the least: we start with Rose stood alone in a kitchen with a heavy nosebleed and as the play begins, we learn that Rose has made a surprise visit to see Hazel and her husband Robin after 40 years apart. As the conversation continues, we learn that the trio used to work together at the nearby nuclear power plant but since then, a huge disaster has occurred in the local area leaving everyone on edge including Hazel and Robin's many children. The rest of the play looks at the relationships and deceit between the three characters and exactly why Rose has showed up all of a sudden after all of this time. It's unique and really bizarre at points, but this basic story is made so thrilling and gripping by Kirkwood's words that this one-act piece is unmissable.

Ron Cook and Francesca Annis in Lucy Kirkwood's The Children

Francesca Annis plays Rose, a character that you never really warm to, but it's kind of the point. She is the epitome of a bitter old woman who tries to conceal her anger and Annis plays it perfectly, keeping the character's intentions subtle and always playing her cards right. The same kind of thing has to be said for Deborah Findlay who plays Hazel. Findlay's character is as open as you can get and she also manages to execute the performance perfectly making the contrast between Hazel and Rose noticable from the off; as soon as they even begin speaking, you can tell how this power struggle is going to play out over the course of the play and I love it. Ron Cook fits in between them both perfectly managing to play a piggy-in-the-middle that gives stage presence, but never enough to overpower the two leading ladies; at the heart of it, this is a story about two women fighting for the upper hand and the actors showcase that perfectly.

Though the set never changes, Miriam Buether's design on The Children is done perfectly. It's hard to make a space look genuinely domesticated - especially when the characters live in a sort of shack as opposed to a house - but she does so well. She manages to capture the essence of a shabby looking home and a post-apocalyptic survival hut in a combination that I'd never even considered before. Peter Mumford also does a fantastic job in lighting the piece, once again making the home feel domesticated and naturalistic.

Deborah Findlay in a rare moment of solitude in The Children

The Children isn't going to revolutionise the face of British theatre in the same way that Kirkwood's Chimerica did, but it is a great example of how a play doesn't need to be extravagant as long as it is well written.

The Children run at the Royal Court thru January 14th - get tickets here.

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