NYTG at the Broadway Opening of The Children

New York Theatre Guide attends the Opening Night for the Broadway transfer of The Children by Lucy Kirkwood.

Francesca Annis, Ron Cook, Lucy Kirkwood & Deborah Findlay

Theatre is predominantly used in the mainstream to dazzle, delight and entertain. It can have overwhelmingly positive and simple messages about acceptance (Kinky Boots) or about outsiders in society beating the odds (Dear Evan Hansen and Wicked), all told with lavish costumes, sets and lighting. But theatre can also challenge us. Theatre can force us to re-evaluate ourselves and our actions. It can even alter the way we live our lives or take action in an effort to influence the world we live in. Last night, the New York Theatre Guide was invited to attend such a piece of theatre, as the Royal Cout Theatre production of Lucy Kirkwood's timely drama The Children officially opened at Broadway's Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, courtesy of Manhattan Theatre Club.

The Children is set in an isolated cottage on the British coast following a series of disastrous events that have left parts of the outside world either under water or contaminated with nuclear radiation. Our three guides through the tale are three retired nuclear engineers in their sixties, played with compelling naturalism by the original London cast of BAFTA Award winner Francesca Annis (as Rose), Olivier Award nominee Ron Cook (as Robin), and Olivier Award winner Deborah Findlay (as Hazel). At first slow-burning, the play gathers momentum until the real reason for Rose's visit to her former colleagues is finally revealed... and the stakes really are a matter of life or death.

Broadway and London's West End aren't exactly overflowing with plays that tackle tough (and sometimes uncomfortable) subjects in today's world, so I applaud Manhattan Theatre Club's Artistic Director Lynne Meadow for taking a chance and bringing the Royal Court Theatre production to Broadway.

Last night we caught up with the cast, as well as Olivier Award-winning playwright Lucy Kirkwood to find out more about the play and why they believe it was chosen for a Broadway transfer.

"I think Lynne really responded to the characters and to the fact that they are three people in their sixties," Lucy Kirkwood explains. "You don’t often see that on stage, without the interference of a younger character. I think that she is someone who thinks a lot about the political situation – both in this country and globally right now – and I think the themes of the play really spoke to her on that level. I think she also responded to the humor and the joy in it and the stakes of what these three people are facing."

In terms of said political situation, it seems that The Children could not have arrived at a more appropriate and necessary time. Since the play was programmed for Manhattan Theatre Club's 2017-2018 Broadway season, President Trump has openly devalued climate changed and announced his intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement of December 2015. One only wishes that the president could make a trip to see Kirkwood's foreboding play.

"I’d love to think that he [Trump] was going to come and see the play and change his mind," says Francesca Annis. "But don’t hold your breath!"

"The play was programmed after Trump was elected, but it was programmed before he pulled out of the Paris Agreement," adds Kirkwood. "So, there have been things that have happened since that have made the resonance of the play much more acute. I’m certainly feeling that during conversations with the audiences, especially in New York because it’s a very liberal, left wing audience. They’re all experiencing a very strange thing of being at odds with their president. It’s a very patriotic country and I don’t think they are used to that. It’s a very interesting time to bring these issues onto a stage for those guys."

Playwright Lucy Kirkwood in Interview

And for those of you wondering about the title of the play and who it refers to, wonder no more: "The title is deliberately ambiguous in terms of who we’re referring to with that phrase," Kirkwood explains. "Certainly the characters’ own biological children dictate a lot of their actions and decisions in their lives. There are characters who think very much about the next generations in a much more metaphorical way. But they, themselves, are still 21 in their own heads, I think. There’s lots of things about them that suggest they haven’t grown up in the way that all of us never grow up. We’re all still young in our heads, I think. However old your body is, you don’t feel like an old person. Also – being a child is not having full agency and not taking responsibility for things. To some extent, the play is about watching those three people grow up."

"Lucy always writes on different levels," Ron Cook adds. "'The Children' could be our children but we are 'The Children' too. It’s working on all of those levels."

Francesca Annis summarises by saying: "It’s about the children in all of us. It’s also a play about responsibility. It doesn’t matter what age you are. We tend to be complacent and offload our responsibilities, like children, onto other people to sort everything out. In actual fact, this play is about confronting that in your actual self and being a grown-up and taking responsibility."

Responsibility is indeed one of the key themes of the play that also marks the Broadway debut for playwright Lucy Kirkwood, who was positively gushing about her work finally being seen by Broadway audiences: "It’s really wonderful," she confides. "If you are a fan of the theatre, as I am, it’s a mystical place, isn’t it? Arthur Miller, Edward Albee, Tennessee Williams – all those brilliant playwrights who you’ve read over the years and admired and looked at how they do it and got angry because you can’t do it as well – it’s really lovely to be in their company."

She's even had the stereotypically warm New York welcome already during her short time in the Big Apple: "I was very proud yesterday because I got shouted at by a motorist whilst crossing the street. It just felt very New York! That’s what happens in the movies, isn’t it? Of course, I responded, but I did it in a very English way - “Do you mind? I happen to be walking here.” - I did my best Princess Margaret."

Stay tuned for our full review of The Children shortly and find out whether Lucy's Broadway debut play can make waves in New York City.

Ron Cook, Deborah Findlay & Francesca Annis in The Children
(Photo by Joan Marcus)

Francesca Annis, Ron Cook & Deborah Findlay in Interview

Francesca Annis, Ron Cook, Lucy Kirkwood & Deborah Findlay

Francesca Annis, Ron Cook & Deborah Findlay

Lucy Kirkwood

Manhattan Theatre Club Artistic Director Lynne Meadow

Becky Ann Baker & Dylan Baker

The Wolf of Wall Street actor Michael Nathanson

Director Moritz von Stuelpnagel

Actually star Joshua Boone

The Children Tickets are available now for performances through to February 4, 2018.

(Opening Night photos by Tom Millward / Melissa Cohen)