Churchill’s sobering play deals with delicate themes and achieves a rare harmony of almost all the theatrical aspects required for a production, writes Sam Ebner-Landy
On one of Manchester’s typically chilly winter evenings, when the thoughts of the city’s student majority would usually be turning either to the following morning’s lecture or the pub, around sixty avid theatre-goers were held in a palpable state of eerie anticipation during the Drama Society’s production of Caryl Churchill’s 2002 play, A Number.
Set in a near-future dystopia, Churchill’s script tells the story of a father’s relationship with his three estranged sons, each of whom reacts drastically and uniquely to the revelation that they are one of “a number” of clones. In this production, the depth of Churchill’s sobering play was entirely realised and it was clear that director Monique Touko had the understanding and, for that matter, the cast to not only carry through the delicate themes of human cloning, experimentation and identity, but also to give them an added feminist gravitas.
Touko made the decision to swap each character’s gender, the all-female cast granting the audience an insight into the wildly misunderstood world of postnatal depression and, as the play went on, a growing sense of mistrust towards the mother, so often portrayed by society as a figure of parental perfection.
In what felt like the quintessential student play, A Number seemed to achieve a rare harmony of almost all the theatrical aspects required for a production. The cast used their minimalistic set intelligently, constantly arranging tables and chairs in order highlight subtext, whilst shifting the patterns and topographies seen in the staging as a means of emphasising the differences in each daughter’s relationship with her mother.
The acting, however, was where this performance truly came into its own. Emily Smith, Alice Walker and Roma Havers were all individually impressive as the three daughters, each bringing an effective and wholly different dynamic to their scene, but the old cliché of a “stolen show” applied mainly to Emma Young, who was truly harrowing in her brilliant portrayal of the mother.
Young’s understated performance gave Churchill’s script the strange sense of reality that it so required, and indeed all of the characters evaded hyperbole well, though dramatic lines such as “we both hate you” or “I’d kill it [the clone]” might have sent this excellent performance in a different direction entirely.
4 out of 5 stars