Thursday, April 18, 2019


Mosquitoes by Lucy Kirkwood. 

Directed by Jessica Arthur. Designer. Elizabeth Gadsby. Lighting designer. Nick Schlieper. Composer and sound engineer. James Brown. Assistant director. Jennifer Rani. Choreographer. Niharika Senapati. Movement and Fight director. Gavin Robins. Voice and text coaches. Jess Chambers and Charmian Gradwell. Syudney Theatre Company. The Drama Theatre. Sydney Opera House.  April 8 – May 18 2019

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Jacqueline McKenzie as Alice and Mandy McElhinney
as Jenny in Mosquitoes               Photo by Daniel Boud

From the very first scene of Sydney Theatre Company’s production of Lucy Kirkwood’s latest play, Mosquitoes, Kirkwood’s wit and piercing insight into human nature draws the audience in to a situation as familiar as life itself.  Alice (Jacqueline McKenzie), a renowned scientist, working on the search for the Higgs boson particle at the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva is visiting her heavily pregnant sister, Jenny (Mandy McElhinney), a medical insurance saleswoman in Luton. Alice, a mother of seventeen year old Luke (Charles Wu) adopts a rational and intelligent approach to allaying Jenny’s fears . Alice is a calming foil to McElhinney’s riotously funny portrayal of Jenny’s  irrational panic. Kirkwood cleverly sets the scene for a dramatic collision between exploding particles of scientific reason and human emotion.  It is the power of the analogy with the LHC that binds Kirkwood’s drama. It is the nature of an expanding and contracting universe that defines the contradictory relationships of Kirkwood’s family. Action and reaction define the confrontational behaviour of the characters,  as they face  their fear of the unexpected chaos that intrudes upon their lives.
Jason Chong as Boson in Mosquitoes. Photo by Daniel Boud

Family and fear are at the very heart of Kirkwood’s tightly interwoven drama of human interaction and scientific advancement. Alice and Jenny’s mother Karen (Annie Byron), resentful that her late husband took credit for much of the work she did to secure his Nobel Prize now fears her age and encroaching dementia. Alice’s son Luke battles the terrifying fear of his contracting universe in a city and a school he hates, and the bewildering nature of his sexual attraction to his classmate, Natalie (Nikita Waldron). Jenny bears the horrible burden of guilt at the death of her daughter and Alice, trained to apply an empirical mind to the scientific principles underpinning our understanding of the universe, must confront her maternal fears when her son goes missing to escape the consequences of an impulsive action. In the vast and inaccessible reaches of the cosmos, it is the human being’s confined and constricting universe that offers no consolation beyond the here and now, as Kirkwood’s characters must struggle, not with an understanding of the concepts of particle atoms, black holes and parallel universes, but with a deeper understanding of themselves and the world of family that they inhabit.
Mandy McElhinney as Jenny
and Annie Byron as Karen
Photo by Daniel Boud

For me, like Kirkwood who by her own admission hasn’t a scientific bone in her body, the science of particle physics offers a fascinating and contrasting metaphor to consider in what is quintessentially a family drama. Although I am prepared to grapple with the concepts of a parallel universe, explained by Alice’s estranged husband, Boson (Jason Chong) , who acts as a commentator on the scientific principles and Luke’s eventual contribution to scientific advancement, 

I remain perplexed by NiharikaSenapati’s representation of choreographed patterns of particle atoms, and the extraneous appearance of a silent Hindu goddess. Perhaps they have been introduced to provide a mystical hypothesis of an eternal cosmos, or more pragmatically to allow a time lapse between a scene of bitter confrontation between Alice and Jenny before their eventual reconciliation. In any case it is too much of a distraction from Kirkwood’s  more powerful theme of family conflict and reconciliation. Or if you will, order out of chaos.

  Louis Seguier as Alice’s partner Henri
In Mosquitoes.    Photo by Daniel Boud
Charles Wu as Luke and Nikita Waldron
As Natalie in Lucy Kirkwood’s Mosquitoes
Photo by Daniel Boud

This aside, Mosquitoes, played out on Elizabeth Gadsby’s open stage design with Nick Schlieper’s  lighting lending a James Turrell atmosphere to Gadsby’s design is a thoroughly absorbing and engaging drama, with excellent performances under the direction of STC’s resident director, Jessica Arthur. In a play that is as compelling and thought-provoking as it is entertaining, Mosquitoes confronts notions of complex family relationships and love as well as provoking an enquiring fascination with the enormity of the universe and the miraculous ingenuity and capacity for discovery by the scientific mind.    
Mosquitoes  plays at the Drama Theatre of the Sydney Opera House until May 18. Bookings; or  (02)9250 1777