Review of Manhattan Theatre Club's The Children on Broadway

  • Our critic's rating:
    December 18, 2017
    Review by:

    Ahh. The ChildrenA many layered title that covers an entire planet when you think about it, and Lucy Kirkwood wants us to think about it. Somewhere in England, we never find out where we are exactly, something has gone very wrong. Very wrong indeed.

    Robin (Ron Cook) and his wife Hazel (Deborah Findlay) have taken up residence in a cottage not far from their former home. The former home is soaked to the gills with radiation because the tsunami that hit England slammed the local nuclear reactor. The emergency generators were in the basement so when the disaster happened people were left on their own to handle everything manually. Everything within a radius of – well, who knows really – is cooked. It is like an invisible evil spirit spreading throughout the land.

    Into this sheltered cottage stumbles Rose (Francesca Annis) who has been absent for roughly 38 years. At one time these three were close colleagues all working as scientists dedicated to the power plant down the road. How and why they went their separate ways is alluded to but never defined. Let’s just say there was duplicity involved. Robin and Rose were more than colleagues. Now however, all that doesn’t measure up to the fact that Rose is back and she has a specific mission on her map.

    The interpersonal relationships are dolled out like poker chips until the entire piece assembles itself. These performances are subtle and focused as each person spins off like a dreidel in a tilted house. This house, according to the script, is tilted, but it was not noticeable to my eyes. Enough to know that the land, and the lives lived on it, are disintegrating. James MacDonald’s direction pays great attention to the details of familiar behavior. An absence of 38 years (or less) surrenders to the physical familiarity of old friends that kicks in like the feel of an old bike.

    As Rose reveals her desire to help the people at the power station, it is the specter of the children that is put in the center of the storm. Robin and Hazel’s four children, and the others at the plant who might have a future if they can be plucked from their jobs. These are three individuals no longer at the prime of their lives, and as Robin points out their bodies are more or less rented, so why not use them for a good purpose. And what is that purpose exactly?

    It is to Kirkwood’s credit that the threat and the impossibility of the situation creeps up on us like radiation poisoning itself. As the play concludes, however, the story collapses in on itself. That the future will not bode well for this trio is not in question, but Kirkwood holds onto her hand here, and we never learn the identity of her cards. The curtain falls and all we can do is fold. Specificity is tossed to the tainted winds. Too bad. A missed opportunity.

    (Photo by Joan Marcus)

    What the popular press says...

    "One of the astonishments of The Children, which comes to the Manhattan Theatre Club intact from a run at the Royal Court Theatre in London last winter, is that even though it is completely successful as an eco-thriller, bristling with chills and suspense and foreboding sound effects, denuclearization is not its subject. Just a few months after the core meltdown, Rose and the two other characters, also physicists involved in the plant’s creation, remain blasé about that. They assume that such facilities, albeit better designed, will have to be part of the world’s energy mix for a long time to come. No, the “fault sequence” Ms. Kirkwood wants to explore is a great deal larger and, given human nature, more intractable."
    Jesse Green for New York Times

    "First comes the reunion. Then, the reckoning. So it goes in The Children, a slow-moving but ultimately thought-provoking and haunting drama about legacies and how the past always catches up with the present."
    Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News

    "Behind the subtleties of its direction and acting, The Children’s central question is blunt: What does it mean to be responsible?"
    Adam Feldman for Time Out New York

    "The three veteran British performers deliver impeccable work, handling the play's ungainly mixture of foreboding drama and cheeky comedy as well as possible... But the actors' fine efforts are not enough to fully breathe life into this willfully slow-paced, sluggish work, which treats minor domestic issues and the future of the planet with equal gravity."
    Frank Scheck for Hollywood Reporter

    "Lucy Kirkwood's scary play makes tense drama out of the catastrophic results of human meddling in the natural world."
    Marilyn Stasio for Variety

    External links to full reviews from popular press...

    New York Times - New York Daily NewsTime Out - Hollywood Reporter - Variety