The Children – Dundee Rep

Written by Lucy Kirkwood

Directed by Andrew Panton

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Unexpected, but far from unfamiliar – a visitor arrives at a small cottage by the shoreline, their intentions unknown, but their presence unnerves the residents of this off-grid slice of tranquillity in a world snared in turmoil. Once a distant fantasy, but now a crushing reality within generational gaps, the nightmare following a meltdown of a nuclear plant, this cottage sits on the outskirts of the no-go zone – close enough to remain within the confines to look after the cows, just far enough to avoid the lethal radiation. Hopefully.

Both familiar with this stranger, Rose, one rather intimately, her presence at first draws curiosity and endless speculation. For Hazel, an ex nuclear physicist like Rose, the barbs are frosted yet oddly comforting with this long-disconnected friend. For Hazel’s husband Robin, there’s a more personal hope that ripples in his gut upon seeing Rose.

Absorbing the natural foundations and talent of Lucy Kirkwood’s script, MacDougall demonstrates a profound understanding through Hazel’s daily routine – an exceptional enactment, moving beyond expectant performance limitations. The minor blips and ticks, as Hazel maintains her structured life (if you can call it living) guide the audience in their understanding of the weight behind the decisions made, and the surface level agony attempting to seep through the cracks.

The Children, referenced often but never seen or heard, some metaphysical, brainchild so to speak, are as always, the future. But what future? Are they destined to sling through the muck and resentment left for them, or is there something the generations who left behind this mess can do to aid? Hazel’s estranged daughter, Lauren, the only of her four children to make an ‘appearance’ offers an intimate insight into the character of Hazel and a distinctly different one from Emily Winter’s childless Rose.

Far from caricature or villainous, Winter balances Rose with a delicacy of understanding – even if audiences may find themselves slipping into the sides of one or other of the principal two leading women. The toxicity of the past refuses to stay suppressed, no matter how many graves may be dug. For Robin (Barrie Hunter), despite initial impressions, the past has always sat at the forefront of his mind without worry, along with his urge for a steak. Hunter is a treat, unsurprisingly, as the Scottish stage icon who breathes vim and vigour, and though Robin’s reckoning is due, Hunter’s comfort with the reaper is a chilling, but macabrely soothing performance with lashings of humour peppering the brutality.

Largely constructed with elements of unfurling narrative, director Andrew Panton treats Rose not as an exposition machine, but as a profoundly vulnerable and human character who instils the audience with a nibble of information. Some may find irritation with the slow drip, but in reality, this utter masterpiece of storytelling is a marvellous way to both communicate intention with audiences – and ripple development surreptitiously.

Chemistry is paramount, a cast of three, with momentous decisions staring them down – MacDougall, Winters and Hunter are a spectacularly mesmeric company to watch. Authenticity is abundant – as is the parsnip wine. The visage of theatrical space is all but removed, even with the elevated staging and crumbled ruins beneath Karen Tennant’s set design. Almost prying, perverse in our ‘through the window’ view, the audience is in the cottage with the cast, sharing the air, the salad and space – though thankfully not the downstairs loo.

Their decision to consider the irreparable damage of the Plant’s disaster and initial location weighs tremendously on their consciousness – though in categorically different ways. There’s something profoundly terrifying within the subtext of The Children’s narrative – Kirkwood’s writing, which for many is reminiscent of the encroaching darkness – a threat never once expected to rear its monstrous, neon-soaked head. But more, the elements of guilt and greed, the utter depravity and humane ‘want’: after all, is it truly a crime to want peace, to want silence, and to want to escape the problems of the past.

Though a singular act without intermission, the pacing of Kirkwood’s writing is aided tremendously with Simon Wilkinson’s lighting, eeking along with the dying natural light, shifting to a more intimate candle-lit setting as the trio grow closer in revelations. Culminating to the power returning, and the fluorescence of light restored to the small cottage – the intensity is depraved, blinding, and timely for the revelations of the show.

A contemporary thriller, spanning generations – Kirkwood’s nuclear piece has long been one associated with merit and praise, but now, in the Dundee Rep, The Children shreds the fissile family dynamic asunder, resulting in a production deserving of the utmost praise – concise, structured, and harrowing in humour and justifiable cruelty to pry open our eyes. Outstanding.

The Children runs at The Dundee Rep until March 19th. Tickets for which can be obtained here.

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