‘The Number’ is the first of the trilogy of plays in the Other Room spring series Lovesick, and the variety of interpretation that this theme invites suggests immense potential. The Welsh premiere of this loaded title was first presented by the Royal Court Theatre Downstairs London in 2002.
The themes are very modern and completely in tune with 21st century developments in science as issues such as genetics and cloning are brought to the fore. This is quite surprising considering that the playwright Caryl Churchill turns 80 this year. Nevertheless, she managed to deal with dark and complex themes with an innovative and daring approach.
The central tenet of the play unfolds the complicated relationship between father and son and is an attempt to analyse the intricacies of family and loss. It becomes apparent that the father has lost a son, and in a grief-stricken state has attempted to recreate him by means of cloning. The beginning saw the son questioning the father about the implications of his crucial decision, thus showing the delicate nature of unconditional love and a fragile connection between them. I must admit it took some time to understand the path of questioning as it was quite obscure, but the dwelling on the significance of the title was masterfully explored fully.
‘A Number’ becomes a key concept as we explore controversial matters such as identity in relation to genetic cloning. Are they essentially the same but a little different, or is each one an exact copy of the original? The father unburdens himself by pleading that a solicitor should sue for the claiming of identity, also underlining who is responsible for such situations. Multiple controversies were raised surrounding law and genetics, and there were times I found the play too challenging at times as I tried to follow their trails of thought. This was further exacerbated by the broken and uncompleted sentences that mirrors the pace of an awkward conversation of this kind. Nevertheless, this also brought a deep sense of realism that was hugely credible in the way a father and son would begin grappling with such life-changing consequences.
The play progressed when the father meets another son who was created under the same circumstances, who seems very different to the shy and anxious portrayal in the first part. The father, played by Brendan Charleson, has trouble accepting that this self-assured and seemingly happy person is the same as his son. His son reminds him that we share most of part of our DNA composition with other, and it is only a small percentage that defines our uniqueness. Stevie Raine managed to provide a convincing interpretation of both sons in a contrasting manner. This scene also examined the true state of happiness, and it became apparent that he lived his life through others. This was especially thought-provoking in probing concepts of individuality and being self-fulfilling.
The designer Carl Davies should be commended for devising a simple but effective set. A wooden straight line ran through the middle of the audience, thus intensifying a sense of two halves of the same person. The father mostly sat on a chair at one end, whilst the son spoke to him from the other end by the door, which increased the sense of polarity between both. The second scene saw the reversal of how they were placed, with the son placed in the chair, and further intensified the disparity between both characters. The lighting and sound was both subtle and mellow in order to expose the raw nature of their relationship, and pauses of silence was effective in creating an unnerving atmosphere as the connection between them unravelled. The director Ed Madden succeeded to lay bare the complexity of the relationship between father and son with great precision.
Although at times I felt the play to be too dense, it did succeed in making me think about the essence of who we really are and how we are truly different to others. ‘A Number’ represented a very modern piece that will acquire an increasing relevance as we will witness significant scientific advancements in the next few decades.
Until March 3