Lucy Kirkwood’s witty dialogue ensures that, despite its underlying seriousness, her new play is never depressing. Playing at The Royal Court, The Children is set in the kitchen of a seaside cottage situated close to a nuclear power station and features three retired nuclear scientists. There has been a disaster at the station, so husband and wife, Hazel & Robin (Ron Cook and Deborah Findlay) have left their family home and moved here as it is just outside the exclusion zone. An unexpected visitor turns up and upsets the equilibrium. She is Rose (Francesca Annis) an old work colleague and, it appears, one time lover of roguish Robin. Is she here to win him back or has she something more sinister in mind? Is the sacrifice she wants them to make one step too far even for people of a certain age, especially when there are children involved. Moreover a daughter who has “issues” and is particularly needy?
The two women couldn’t be more opposite. Hazel, the yoga practicing, careful and practical one, married with children and Rose, single, childless and risk taking. Would they ever have been close friends? Probably not, especially when we suspect that Hazel is fully aware of what has gone on between her and her husband.
The play cleverly combines the mundane with the extraordinary, the pleasant with the shocking and is acted with aplomb by all concerned. One is in no doubt from the word go that Hazel’s reaction to Rose’s appearance is in complete contrast to her husband’s, but the sublime Deborah Findlay brilliantly goes through the motion of being the perfect welcoming host, at least until Rose pushes her to the limits.
The Children doesn’t preach about the dangers of nuclear power. In fact it doesn’t preach at all. The calamity at the power station is a symbol for the type of world we are bequeathing to our children and the responsibilities for which each generation is responsible.
As I have said, there are bleak themes. Robin has made the mistake of returning to his old house to tend to the cattle they abandoned and the Geiger counter eventually reveals that he is radio active. Cancer often rears its ugly head and day-to-day living is hard following the explosion. But life must go on and Kirkwood relies on the British stiff upper lip and recourse to humour to ensure that her beautifully written, well directed and evocatively lit play, although dramatic in theme has more laughs than tears.