Review: A Number by Caryl Churchill at The Other Room.

Review: A Number by Caryl Churchill at The Other Room.

A man in a chair with glasses in his hand hold a younger man's hand who is knealt on the floor.
*Thanks to The Other Room for tickets to show for the purpose of this review.

Ever since I was a teenager I have loved Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls, so I was super excited to be invited to review A Number at The Other Room in Cardiff. I haven’t read A Number, but I had an inkling that it would be just as wonderfully written as Top Girls– and guess what? I was right… for once!

The Other Room at Porters is a very intimate venue for theatrical performances. This means that no matter where you choose to sit (seats are first come, first served…) you are full immersed within the story unfolding before your very eyes.

A Number is a 2002 play written by Caryl Churchill, and from what I’ve seen from my (very brief!) research, it has no directional notes. This means that Ed Madden (Director) had to create and design the different behaviours, movements and layout of each scene. I find this truly fascinating; it’s like being given the bones to a story and having the chance to really pump it full of your own style and creative ideas. 

The ‘filling out’ of this play also comes down to the two performers, Brendan Charleson as the Father and Stevie Raine as the ‘numbers’. They add the quirks and intricacies to each character, filling out the different roles and interacting with each other to create a scene of familial complications and emotions.

A Number is based around a Father and Son relationship, torn apart by substance abuse and suicide. The first scene follows the father and son (clone 1) discussing their relationship, with the first layer of their story being told. The next scene sees father and son (original child) battling out their own story, where real truths are discovered. The story continues to unravel and eventually we discover their mother and ‘original child’ were not killed in a car crash, but the mother commited suicide and the ‘original child’ was sent into care. We further discover the horrid nature behind the father; we no longer see him as victim but as a vicious and selfish being who did things parents should never, ever do. The play ends with more despair, but I will leave this for you to discover yourself…

A man in the distance is sat in a chair. A man close up looks distressed.

A man in a blue hoodie lies on the floor.

A man is folding his arms.

As the play began I was slightly worried I wouldn’t be able to follow the story properly, either because I hadn’t read the play or because I wouldn’t understand the interpretation of the play. I was relieved to be able to follow the story with intrigue, at first feeling such sorrow for the Father (Charleson) as he struggles with his own emotions about the death of his late wife and son. Charleson is an emotive performer, and his lines was delivered with an array of emotions, from sorrow to anger and all that’s in between. 

Raine offers three versions of the son; the original and two clones. He performs with ease as the three very different characters, from the erratic and crazed original to the nervy first clone to the optimistic second, who ends the performance. I love his offerings, from scary to thoughtful, he gives an insight into different mentalities and an array of examples regarding nature versus nurture. 

I really adored Churchill’s dialogue, and I could understand the different train of thoughts from each character throughout the play. The emphasis on the stream-of-consciousness diologue was realistic and incredibly comparative to modern day thinking, and the exchanges felt competely natural in their design. I particularly loved the random thoughts about genetics, dogs and clone 2’s wife’s ears…

The other side to this quite serious and disturbing play is humour. There was a lot of dark and witty hmour running throughout, lightning the darker moments but also giving that real-life element we all partake in during the darker times of life. The final scene closes with a humurous exchange between father and clone 2, and I think the play (so drenched in despair) needs this ending for sure.

I felt quite thoughtful during and after the performance, I felt renewed in terms of my own life and I felt better about my own shortcomings as a parent (trust me, you can’t get much worse than original child’s childhood.), but I aslo felt a little sad for the ones who were hurt along the way. A Number left me in a state of limbo for a while, and it is only upon sleeping on it that I can say how moved I was by the concept of starting again, of not wanting any child but that child, of trying to fix your mistakes only to cause even more damage and destruction.

I also think the play points in the direction of modern day consumerism, a world where we can have whatever we want, even a clone of our child. It points out our wreckless abandonment of more than just trash and unwanted goods, A Number is focused on people and this is unnerving to say the least. 

A Number is sure to draw you in, trample on your idea of a reality and spit you back out at the end, thankful for the life you have…

 So, yeah, go see it!

A Number is running from 12th February until 3rd March 2018, plenty of time for you to book your tickets!

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