The surprise arrival of Rose (Jemima Langdon, left) changes everything for Hazel (Imogen Gray, right) and her husband RobinAlex Huntley

For a play about a nuclear meltdown, I really didn’t expect to laugh so much. The protagonists of The Children – Rose (Jemima Langdon), Hazel (Imogen Gray), and Robin (Adam Keenan) – share equal moments of hilarity and despair in this tense domestic drama with dizzying global scope. The characters dance, cry, fight, and collapse all within the small kitchen of Hazel and Robin’s retirement cottage over a single evening. James Critchley’s tight direction transforms the Corpus Playroom into a claustrophobic space, drawing the audience ever closer as the relationships between the characters splinter and crack. The Children plunges from everyday humour to the depths of human cruelty, bringing the audience along for an incredibly emotive ride.

“Keenan, Gray, and Langdon are powerhouses”

Keenan and Gray play the retired nuclear engineers Robin and Hazel, whose life is suddenly interrupted by the arrival of a former colleague, Langdon’s Rose. Playing older characters convincingly can be challenging for student actors, and it’s tempting to fall into stereotypes. Apart from the grey hairspray – something I have a personal vendetta against – both the actors and the designers manage fairly well. Alessia Mavakala’s costumes particularly succeed in this department: the actors are costumed simply but evocatively, wearing classic, timeless pieces that age them sensitively, rather than with a heavy hand. The physicality of the actors’ movements could have been more consistent, but their performances were so outstanding that I’m willing to forgive pretty much anything.

The production design brings these incredible characters to lifeAlex Huntley

Keenan, Gray, and Langdon are powerhouses. In this incredibly dialogue-heavy play, each actor managed their speeches marvellously and portrayed their characters with depth and nuance. Their interpersonal relationships were also outstandingly developed, both believable and engaging. Although some monologue moments occasionally strayed into the affected, the naturalism of the dialogues between the characters was breath-taking. Critchley’s direction allowed each of these performers to shine, and I feel incredibly lucky that I was able to witness it.

“The cracks between the generations widen”

Iona Boyer’s set design was simply impeccable, and I actually gasped walking into the auditorium. Floral bouquets and trailing vines, thermoses and reused bottles, vestiges of both the old and new lives that Robin and Hazel lead crowd the kitchen, immediately drawing the audience into this all-too-believable disaster future. Complementing this is Ella Fitt’s gorgeous lighting design, which deserves eternal praise. A projection of a leaded window washes the back wall of the theatre in glorious sunlight, and as the night progresses and the true reason behind Rose’s visit becomes apparent, the window gradually gets darker, leaving only a few flickers of the easiness of the afternoon. Francesca Gilks’ sound design completes the trifecta of perfection. I sometimes wished the sounds were less subtle, but perhaps this is more the fault of the distraction of rowdy Tuesday-night crowds outside the theatre. The production design gave the cast a perfect springboard for their performances, and in some places was a performance in its own right.


Mountain View

And Then There Were None had us on pins and needles

Throughout the play, the tension flickers like a warning light. Keenan, Gray, and Langdon circle each other, drawing out their deepest fears and most shameful confessions. Concerned with ageing, the limits of science, and the protection of the future generations of its title, The Children takes on new resonance in light of the current pandemic. Hazel’s obsessive clean eating and yoga, as much as she wants them to, cannot prevent her inevitable death, culminating in her almost absurdly begging Robin to “take it back” when he confesses that at some point, he might want to die. Rose, meanwhile, questions the future that these retired scientists have left for their descendants, despite her disappointment at not having children of her own. When Robin and Hazel’s daughter, Lauren, calls them over and over to vent her unnameable “rage”, the cracks between the generations widen. As I left the Corpus Playroom, dazzled with the beauty of the set and lighting and shaken by the desperation of the actors’ performances, I felt that I looked at the prospect of ageing with new eyes. For the first time in a very long time, I felt like a child.