Review: ‘The Children’ Takes A Piercing Look At Adulthood
By Jil Picariello, Theater Editor, December 12, 2017
From the moment you enter the theater, you know something ain’t right. Things are cockeyed. Maybe it’s the bottle of wine you had at dinner? No, there is something definitely off-kilter about the stage at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater, where Lucy Kirkwood’s The Children is playing. It’s tilted.
There’s something off about what’s happened in the world of the play as well: There has recently been a Fukashima-esque nuclear meltdown. At a rundown cottage on the English shore, we meet Robin and Hazel, who have relocated from their farm inside the “exclusion zone.” The couple were part of the team who built the reactor decades earlier. They have a surprise visitor: Rose, another member of that long-ago team, who they have not seen in 38 years (or have they?).
There is mystery a-plenty, and the mood is as off-kilter as the set. Hazel and Rose are old friends (or are they?). There is anger bubbling underneath the casual dialogue, for reasons that unravel slowly, along with the real reason for Rose’s visit. Hazel boasts of her children and grandchildren, her yoga routine and healthful eating. In her sixties, she boasts of her vitality, her dedication to remaining youthful, while Rose, who grabs a cigarette or two, seems far more realistic, perhaps resigned, to what her future holds.
What is truly marvelous is the gap between the comfortable dialogue between the twosome, and then the threesome, and the emotions snaking around and under them. There is something dangerous here, under the surface; a monster lurking just out of sight. But the play goes in unexpected places, both charming and disturbing the audience, held breathless by what we don’t know. I won’t reveal what is ahead, but you will find yourself pondering the questions The Children asks for a long time to come.
All three performers—Deborah Findlay as Hazel, Ron Cook as Robin, and, especially, Francesca Annis as Rose—are marvelous. They performed the play in London to great acclaim, and, speaking for New York City theatergoers, we are honored to have them here. Their comfort in the skins of these prickly characters is a lesson in how to do a lot with a little—a glance, a lift of the eyebrow, a tilt of the head.
It’s also due to the understated direction of James Macdonald, who helmed the play in London. He deftly maneuvers his brilliant cast around the tilted world they inhabit. Dread builds in the pit of your stomach as you watch them dance and parry and bleed. And when the “big” question emerges, it feels both absolutely inevitable and as shocking as a punch in the face.
Who are the children the title alludes to, you may wonder. They are your children, and mine, and the world’s. What we owe them, and the world they will live in, is what this marvelous play leaves you wondering.
The Children is at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater, 261 West 47th Street, through February 4, 2018. Run time is 1 hour and 50 minutes with no intermission. Written by Lucy Kirkwood. Directed by James Macdonald; scenic and costume design by Miriam Beuther; lighting and projection design by Peter Mumford; sound design by Max Pappenheim. Cast: Francesca Annis, Ron Cook, Deborah Findlay.
Cover: (l. to r.) Ron Cook, Francesca Annis, and Deborah Findlay in ‘The Children.’ Photo: Joan Marcus.