Lucy Kirkwood’s ambitious play “The Children,” a presentation of the Manhattan Theatre Club and the Royal Court Theatre of London, where the drama was first staged, has a broad scope. Although it has only three characters, its underlying theme is the very existence of the world as we know it as a result of forces of nature escalated by humans with dire results. The three portrayed are trapped by events they cannot control.
The strength of the imaginative play lies in the interactions of the characters, all three having had professional lives as physicists, as if they were in a drama of far less consequence. Deborah Findlay as Hazel and Ron Cook as Robin are a married British couple driven from their home by a nuclear power plant accident, raging radiation and a tsunami, and now in a temporary dwelling (simple scenic design by Miriam Buether). Francesca Annis as Rose appears unexpectedly. They were once friends, and the sexual tension created indicates that Rose and Robin had something going on between them back in the past.
We never meet the four children of Hazel and Robin who are referred to, and in contrast, we learn that Rose is childless. She also has been hit by cancer. Rose, as we eventually learn, has a humanitarian mission that can give new meaning to her life. Hazel and Robin are engaged in trying to survive. They have a Geiger counter, which at one point Rose runs over Robin’s entire body, and at another Robin ominously coughs up blood.
We are challenged to decide what to make of the characters, their relationship, events of the past and forebodings for the future. Director James Macdonald accents the play’s intensity and step-by-step revelations. Massive projections at the end drive home the central concept.
Mostly, it is the expertise of the three cast members that keeps us glued. Findlay and Cook are consistently superb, and Annis is tautly fascinating in her role of Rose. I have a special soft spot for Annis, who, in addition to her illustrious stage career, has appeared in numerous films, including as Lady Macbeth in Roman Polanski’s 1971 dynamic screen version, which I used in the curriculum for a course that I taught at New York University. Annis was excellent, and Polanski, always the individualist, had her in the nude for the famous sleepwalking scene. I watched her effective total performance repeatedly in class projections over the years, so it is a special delight to see her so excellent in “The Children.” At the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed December 15, 2017.