Theatre reviews: The Children | Kid X

It’s difficult to imagine a more fitting show for this time of crisis and threat than the new production of The Children at Dundee Rep, writes Joyce McMillan

Irene Macdougall and Barrie Hunter in The Children PIC: Tommy Ga Ken Wan
Irene Macdougall and Barrie Hunter in The Children PIC: Tommy Ga Ken Wan

The Children, Dundee Rep ****

Kid X, Lanternhouse, Cumbernauld ****

Somewhere on the east coast of England, something terrible has happened. A nuclear power plant exploding with the force of an earthquake, a tsunami, an exclusion zone poisoned by lethal levels of radiation. And just beyond it, in a cottage near their former home, live Hazel and Robin, two retired nuclear physicists who once worked at the plant.

With their four children grown up and gone, Hazel takes a forceful but somehow fragile view of their situation, as they grow older; her routine is all yoga and home-grown salads, made with local produce carefully geiger-counted for safety. She knows, though, that her husband is putting their health at risk daily, by going – he says – to visit the cows they once raised, inside the exclusion zone.

And when a former colleague, Rose, suddenly appears, disrupting their hard-won equilibrium with an escalating series of revelations and challenges, the scene is set for a night of sustained and almost dream-like drama, in which all three are forced to confront their own mortality, and to make profound decisions about the legacy they want to leave.

It’s therefore difficult to imagine a more fitting show, for this time of crisis and threat, than this Scottish premiere of Lucy Kirkwood’s The Children. first seen at the Royal Court in 2016, which opens Dundee Rep’s Spring Season. On a small, elevated kitchen set, which designer Karen Tennent surrounds with an inky, troubled sea reaching into the auditorium, a powerful Dundee Rep ensemble cast of Irene Macdougall, Barrie Hunter and Emily Winter directed by Andrew Panton deliver Kirkwood’s drama with a steady, burning energy that drives the play seamlessly through an uninterrupted 110 minutes.

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Here and there, there are slight jolts in the play’s handling of its desperately serious subject matter and there’s a relentless middle-class insistence on sexual infidelity as a key plot-driver, and the irritating trope of two excellent women coming to blows over a fairly ordinary-looking man. Yet there’s no doubting the play’s overwhelming momentum, as Rose issues her final challenge, and the story builds towards its brave and chilling conclusion. Macdougall, as Hazel, delivers a heart-stopping performance for these times, as a woman struggling to face the truth that “normal” life has gone for ever, to be replaced with something briefer, more demanding, and much more frightening.

The inheritance we are leaving to our children was also centre stage at Lanternhouse, Cumbernauld this weekend, but this time viewed through the future-facing lens of a young generation raised on the internet, and wary of what a hyper-connected future might mean for their basic humanity.

In 50 swift and searing minutes, Kid X – produced by MHZ of Glasgow (director Bex Anson and scenographer/designer Dav Bernard) in association with Feral – uses a mind-blowing mix of live action, dazzling visuals, dance, movement, and a driving musical score, to bring to life a late-21st century Frankenstein story involving brilliant black British scientist Dr Lazarus (superbly played and sung by MC Eva Lazarus), who tries to create a kid with an artificial heart to fill her emotionally empty life, but forbids him to fall in love.

In a sense, it’s a conventional tale. It’s told here, though, with a vividness and energy that fairly blows our socks off; and when the kids in the audience finally rush to the stage to join the cast in a post-show dance-off, they seem like the living embodiment of all the joyful values Dr Lazarus has forgotten, in her internet-driven rush to global fame, wealth and glory.

The Children is at Dundee Rep until 19 March; Kid X is on tour until 24 March to Greenock, Dunoon, Kilmarnock, Dumfries and Jedburgh.

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