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FringeReview UK 2017


National Theatre, London

Genre: Contemporary, Drama, Mainstream Theatre, Multimedia, New Writing, Theatre

Venue: National Theatre, Dorfman


Low Down

Following hard on The Children at the Royal Court, Lucy Kirkwood’s long-developed Mosquitoes is directed by Rufus Norris where Katrina Lindsay’s glowing light turquoise bubble and circular set. Paul Constable joins in creating a light show with a planetarium you can dance on. Adam Cork’s music is attractively-edged with quirks for quarks and Paul Arditti’s sound in the Dorfman’s space indulges a Richter reading.


Like Lucy Kirkwood’s Chimerica, Mosquitoes is a history play, set in 2006-08 though with a prophetic exposition near the end. Based around CERN’s switch-on of the Hadron particle collider and the collision of two sisters, Mosquitoes thrills with some of Chimerica’s mind-zapping energy.


Its trope of insects colliding encompasses sibling success, bereavement, maternal damage, slighted women in science, slighted intelligence and empathy, Asperger’s and a vanishing partner jumping it seems into the nature of the Higgs-Boson itself – emerging as The Boson.


It’s been long in development Kirkwood’s preface declares, and with a felicitous last-minute nudge evident on reading it, she and director Rufus Norris seem intent on accelerating as it were the human agency and depth Kirkwood’s shown even more of recently.


Nowhere more so than in another science-based play, Kirkwood’s magnificent The Children premiered last December at the Royal Court. That comprised a single kitchen. Here, Katrina Lindsay’s glowing light turquoise bubble and circular set – echoed with a giant space mirror doughnut above – seems at first like a private suite on the Tardis. It’s echoed in a black hole where the bubble vanishes, and much traffic descends or ascends around the central collider conceit. Paul Constable joins in creating a light show with a planetarium you can dance on. Adam Cork’s music is attractively-edged with quirks for quarks and Paul Arditti’s sound in the Dorfman’s space indulges a Richter reading. Some scientists’ houses perch directly over the CERN tunnel.


That’s not what heavily pregnant Jenny appreciates being visited by elder sister Alice, CERN scientist and superior intellect back in Luton. ‘I’m Forrest Gump and you’re the Wizard of fucking Oz’ Jenny summarises in language that makes us beware the label she’s been handed by their mother. Waspishly she attributes their mother’s smoking only in the later pregnancy to her own stupidity. This is Amanda Boxer’s brilliant Nobel-shying Karen, who later tells Jenny not to argue with her cleverer sister, that Alice herself is clever but not brilliant. Implying Karen was. Now Karen’s edging into dementia – and knows it.


After such reassurance the news a year on that Jenny’s lost her child through measles, refusing an MMR jab on bad advice, means her visit to Geneva’s even more of a collider than their Luton one. Olivia Colman’s extraordinary terracing of feelings is the heart of this play with a designer hole in it. The antimonies of two cultures, almost two world views play out in a wrench of flesh metal. From raw grieving through an EQ far higher than her relatives Jenny expresses in pungent wit a need to land something of herself, and something on them.


Olivia Colman soaks up this litany of inferiority from sister and mother and plays it back like the feedback of the noise stars make, that Alice gives to her son, brilliantly troubled Asperger’s spectrum Luke, given just the right edge and fleer by Joseph Quinn.


From the start Luke and Jenny bounce off each other like a couple of protons; each intuits the other’s lack lives in themselves. Whilst Jenny’s sexual gambits are limited to making a lonely play for Yoli Fuller’s Henri, Alice’s empathic squeeze, causing trouble enough, it’s Jenny’s volatile exchanges with Luke, and his with sexting siren Natalie (Sofia Barclay) that let fly one desperate trajectory.


Olivia Williams’ Alice is superb in uptight containment, the kind that even by the end adduces behaviours to Jenny and astonishing advice that make us look again at what we mean by intelligence. The chemistry as well as physics between Colman and Williams is enough to show just what kind of damage and healing families inflict on each other, with no need to hark back to 1970s textbooks.


Boxer’s assured scalloping-out of a mind and Quinn’s flinching brilliance more than amplify this: we’re almost left with unhappy families dancing on an edge that the Boson lectures from. Paul Hilton in designer stubble and white coat suggests not just the authoritative old-school science delivery, albeit futuristic, but the kind of partner Williams’ Alice was drawn to. He does though offer a strange benediction, in one of his singular Ted Talks. Vanessa Emme, Cait Davis and Ira Mandela Siobhan who also provided movement direction amplify support in sharply-etched vignettes.


By this time Alice is unaware just what Jenny’s done to and for her, but by then we’ve been subjected to a flail of scattering nebulae, an outfall and emotional inscape. It draws from and in some way prophesies The Children, a more inscaped conception enjoying a fleeter single conception. Mosquitoes is as ever with Kirkwood hugely ambitious, says far more about emotion than its dazzling light-lectures, and humanizes a whole scientific race in depth, since unlike The Children this one resents the jostle of generations scraping each other. It takes longer to settle than that play, though enjoys the same creative level. Less classically elegant, Mosquitoes ends in consummate symmetry.


Colman and Williams provide a mesmerising sister act that others might wish to follow after a suitable interval, and Colman it’s hoped will return to the stage more often now. Anything Kirkwood does now must be awaited with the same breathlessness that switching on CERN’s collider provides.