by Lynn on September 29, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

l-r Laurie Paton, Fiona Reid
Photo: Dahlia Katz


At the Berkeley Street Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Lucy Kirkwood

Directed by Eda Holmes

Set and costumes by Eo Sharp

Lighting by Bonnie Beecher

Sound by John Gzowski

Cast: Geordie Johnson

Laurie Paton

Fiona Reid

A wonderfully challenging play given a stunning production by director Eda Holmes and her dandy cast.

 The Story. British writer, Lucy Kirkwood wrote The Children in 2016 and it was first produced at the Royal Court where I saw it.

In The Children Kirkwood has taken as her model, the Japan nuclear disaster when the nuclear power plant at Fukushima had a disastrous accident.  In Kirkwood’s play the story takes place in a remote part of England after a disaster in a local nuclear power station.

Robin and his wife Hazel are nuclear engineers who have had to move to a small cottage in a remote area to live. They used to live in a house very close to the power plant and had to move because of the contamination. Little hints in the story let us know with heart-sinking clarity that the contamination has spread outside that area and that people are suffering the consequences of it.

Out of the blue Hazel and Robin are visited by Rose, also a nuclear engineer and Robin’s one-time lover.  They banter, talk about old times and catch up on how Robin and Hazel’s children are doing. But Rose has serious business to discuss. She has a stunning proposition for the three of them.

The Production.  Director Eda Holmes and her cast have created a wonderful production that realizes the complexities of the play as well as its joys.

Designer Eo Sharp has created a rustic, simple English cottage just outside the nuclear contaminated zone. The amenities are almost less than basic—the plumbing is dicey and one has to be careful of what is flushed down the toilet.

The play opens on a note of startled confusion. Hazel (Laurie Paton) is in the kitchen of the cottage and is startled to see Rose there, who she hadn’t seen in a long time. Her reaction to seeing Rose (Fiona Reid) must have been extreme because when the lights go up in the kitchen Hazel is breathlessly apologizing to Rose for her reaction since she hadn’t expected to see anybody there.

As Hazel, Laurie Paton quickly calms down and a guarded graciousness takes over to help make up for the shock. Fiona Reid as Rose also keeps her cool in trying to be calm in an excitable moment. There are cracks in this ‘quiet’ set up. Hazel knew about Robin’s time with Rose and doesn’t like her much. When Robin (Geordie Johnson) arrives, the triangle is complete.

Robin and Hazel have a comfortable if prickly marriage. They have an adult daughter who has struggled with mental issues, which causes tension.  Hazel knows about Robin’s affair with Rose. In a terrific bit of clue dropping by the playwright, Hazel says she will get a glass of water and Rose says she will get it for her, going right to the cupboard with the glasses in it. How would Rose know where the glasses for water are kept since we are lead to believe she’s never been to the cottage before? Simple, she was at the cottage when she and Robin had their affair and would know the lay of that cottage. So in that dynamic Laurie Paton as Hazel has the upper hand of ‘knowing’ and is wary of Rose and still is hurt by Robin. Robin, as played by Geordie Johnson seems tired (we will find out why later) and is resigned to his situation with his wife and her on-going attitude. And Fiona Reid as Rose, is calm and collected because she’s got more pressing issues to consider than Hazel’s ill-temper.

So emotions are heightened and are maintained thanks to Eda Holmes’ fine direction and this first rate cast. Holmes has her cast do a complex dance and they manoeuvre around and away from each other.   Life and its joys do not stop when times get tough, Kirkwood has Rose remember a wonderful dance routine they did when they were younger and she bops around the kitchen, urging Hazel to join in. Eventually Hazel and Robin join in too.

At the end, when Rose has explained her startling proposition in light of the power station disaster, life goes on as normally as possible. Hazel rolls out her yoga mat and does her exercises because that is what she has always done at the end of the day. Rose joins her. (Laurie Paton and Fiona Reid’s downward dog poses are mighty impressive). Life goes on, even in a disaster.

Comment. Lucy Kirkwood writes plays about huge events but looked at in small focus. She wrote Chimerica about American/Chinese relations in the large picture. But in the small picture Kirkwood has created a photographer who happened to see what was going on in Tienanmen Square and took the photo of a brave man quietly standing in front of a tanker that is bearing down on him in a way. The play concerns the photographer trying to find out what happened to that man twenty-five years after the photo was taken.

In The Children Kirkwood again takes a huge subject—nuclear accidents and the implication for the world–and makes it a small, vital question to be examined: what is ones responsibilities to others, to future generations, when disaster strikes. She is not finger pointing at how an older generation has been irresponsible and brought about climate change. She looks at the issue from a different perspective: how can the older generation protect the environment and do dangerous work involving the environment, for the next generation, for the future?  She writes about facing facts no matter how unappealing.  People tend to look away from thorny issues. Kirkwood makes you look at the problem head on.

The play offers a sobering comment on responsibility and being adult by taking care of the earth and each other so there is something to give to future generations,

The play is compact and packs a punch.

Canadian Stage Company presents:

Opened: Sept. 27, 2018.

Closes: Oct. 21, 2018.

Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission.

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