Monday, December 18, 2017

The Children (Manhattan Theatre Club)

By Harry Forbes

This superbly written and powerfully acted drama from London’s Royal Court Theatre concerns a post-apocalyptic England wherein Rose, a nuclear engineer (Francesca Annis) pays an unexpected visit to two old colleagues and friends, Hazel (Deborah Findlay) and Robin (Ron Cook) as the country is recovering from a nuclear power plant accident triggered by an earthquake. 

The play is nearly two hours (and might benefit from a little trimming), but is performed without an intermission. Lucy Kirkwood’s drama is as much about the relationship among these three old friends -- fraught with tension as, among other issues, Robin and Rose once had an affair -- and about aging and our responsibility to the next generation. (Rose, as we learn, never married and has no children, while Robin and Hazel have four, including an elder daughter whose difficulties gravely concern Hazel.)
For such heavy-duty subject matter, there is a surprising amount of humor in the piece, not to mention a most surprising and amusing dance the three perform to James Brown’s “Ain’t It Funky Now,” and the enormity of the disaster and its repercussions only gradually unfold as the evening builds in intensity.

Annis, whose stateside stage appearances have been all too rare, is commanding as her unflappable, outwardly calm Rose, while Findlay finely delineates her nervous, fretful character, the polar opposite of Rose. And Cook skillfully shows how Robin must navigate between the two women.

The production has been expertly directed by James Macdonald, and vividly designed (set and costumes) by Miriam Buether showing the cottage (just outside the exclusion zone) in which Robin and Hazel are living after their own home has become uninhabitable. Peter Mumford’s creepy lighting and Max Pappenheim’s atmospheric sound design add to the appropriately ominous mood.

(The Samuel J.Friedman Theatre Box Office at 261 West 47th Street; or 212-239-6200/ through February 1) 

Pictured (L-R): Ron Cook, Francesca Annis, and Deborah Findlay Photo © Joan Marcus 2017

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