Lucy Kirkwood's award-winning play The Children, a disturbing tale about nuclear power that mirrors real events, is troubling from the onset. The frame around the stage is tilted and Rose, the lone character standing mid-stage, has blood streaming from her nose onto her shirt. Hazel (Deborah Findlay), taken by surprise at her presence, has struck her inadvertently.
After years of absence, Rose (Francesca Annis) unexpectedly comes to visit two of her former colleagues, married physicists Hazel and Robin (Ron Cook). For the first half of the nearly two-hour drama, the women catch up, giving the audience background. Rose is childless and single and has spent time in America. She knows about Hazel's first child, Lauren, but not that Hazel and Robin had three other children. Now retired, Hazel and Robin stayed near the power plant where they all worked. In addition to their home, they bought cows and had a small farm. Then came the "accident," which Hazel recounts in detail. She was at home when the shaking began and dishes began to break. When she ran from the house, she saw that the road had cracked down the middle. She walked down to the sea to get better cell service and saw that "it looked like the sea was boiling milk.”
Now the couple lives in a small house owned by Robin’s relative "outside the exclusion area.” There are subtle signs to show how they are affected by the accident. The electricity is spotty, and at one point Hazel lights candles throughout the kitchen. They usually have cold food and she spends a lot of time onstage making a salad for dinner.
Hazel is a nurturer and a motherly character. She’s concerned about their health and despite being 68, is determined that they are young and vital. Rose projects a slight air of sexuality and confidence. Robin is friendly and gregarious and the obvious object of both women’s affections.
The dialogue between the two women has an edge to it, and the talented actresses project an air of tension. This is not a friendly visit. Hazel is suspicious and eventually gets around to asking why Rose has come. Even then, Rose doesn't respond immediately. Could she be there for Robin? It turns out that she and Robin had had an affair years before, and although they didn't realize it, Hazel knew about it. However, later in the play, Rose reveals the true reason for her visit and she asks both Robin and Hazel to make a life-altering decision.
The play recently arrived from London where it received a nomination for the 2017 Evening Standard Theatre Awards. It moved to Broadway with its original cast and director James MacDonald.
Kirkwood's drama is engrossing and absorbing. Towards the end of the play, the three characters recreate a dance that Hazel made up years before when they were young. The dance slightly breaks the tension, but goes on longer than necessary. By the end of the drama, Hazel is doing yoga while Rose is following her moves. We know Robin's decision but aren't sure as to what Hazel will do.
The play ends with some moral questions. Do we live for the present and take no responsibility for the future? Who has more responsibility for the future, those with children or those without? The Children is a somber cautionary tale, sadly one that is not far-fetched. Serious thought-provoking ideas for the ride home.