Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: The Children; Aladdin

Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: The Children; Aladdin

Article excerpt

What if? is the engine of every great story. What if the toys came to life when their owner left the room? What if the prince's uncle killed the king, seduced the queen, and stole the crown? Lucy Kirkwood asks: what if an elderly atomic physicist volunteered to take charge of the team decommissioning a stricken nuclear power plant in order to spare the lives of younger workers? Quite a complicated set-up. The play takes an hour to reach its starting point. First it feels like an oldies love triangle with a post-apocalyptic twist. We're in a farmhouse near the site of a nuclear disaster. Rose, a wrinkly beauty, arrives unexpectedly and is greeted by fun-loving Hazel. Both are retired physicists who worked at the plant but haven't met for 38 years. They catch up on babies, affairs, careers etc. Frosty Rose is unmarried and childless. Blousy Hazel is retired with grandchildren. Her loudmouth husband, Robin, arrives and they all get plastered on home-made plonk. Robin and Rose, it emerges, had a torrid affair lasting many years and the slow-moving script asks us to imagine that Rose has arrived to claim Robin back.

There are other puzzles in this tangled plot. Why are Robin and Hazel still living slap-bang next to the UK's version of Chernobyl? Odder still, Robin makes daily trips into the radiation zone to care for some animals. He must have so many gamma rays zinging off his skin that he could get a job as a lighthouse. Finally, the story begins and Rose beseeches her old pals to sacrifice themselves alongside her because 'it's not fair' on the young people 'with their whole lives ahead'. But Rose can't compel them to join her mission, and the play dwindles into a series of poorly linked actions that feel like a struggle for a proper ending. There's a kiss, a dance, a vengeful slap, a hair-pulling episode, a haemorrhage from the mouth, a sudden electricity surge. Flooded drains burst across the kitchen floor. Phone calls are made to taxi-drivers and distressed off-spring. There's yoga too. Synchronised yoga even. But none of it takes the story anywhere satisfying.

It's a pity because Kirkwood has a talent for dialogue and psychological observation. The characters are full of amusing thoughts on ageing, parenthood, female rivalry and domestic trivia. 'Personally,' says Rose, 'I find salad deeply depressing.' That got a huge laugh. There are some lively stabs at aphorism. …

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