Saturday, September 2, 2023

THE CHILDREN - Chaika Theatre


Karen Vickery (Hazel) - Lainie Hart (Rose) - Michael Sparks (Robin) in "The Children"

Written by Lucy Kirkwood – Directed by Tony Knight

Assistant Directors – Sophie Benassi and Bel Henderson – Choreography by Ylaria Rogers

Lighting design by Stephen Still – Sound design by Neville Pye

ACT Hub, August 31 – September 9th 2023.

Performance on September 1st reviewed by BILL STEPHENS

It’s productions like this one, by Chaika Theatre,  which are quickly establishing the ACT Hub as one of the region’s  most interesting theatres for those seeking outstanding productions of thoughtful, challenging plays.

Performed in a sparse setting, for which no designer is attributed, but representing a cottage kitchen enclosed by sandbags, Tony Knight’s astute direction focusses full attention on the three protagonists.

In the hands of three actors as skilled as those in this cast, nothing more is necessary, because part of the fascination of this production is watching the nuanced decisions made by the actors as they interpret Lucy Kirkwood’s intelligent, confronting script.

None-the-less, unobtrusive sound and lighting design, by Neville Pye and Stephen Still respectively, are essential components in assisting the actors create the curious sense of foreboding that makes  this play so compelling.

Karen Vickery (Hazel) - Lainie Hart (Rose) in "The Children"

“The Children” commences with the discovery of Rose (Lainie Hart) dealing with an unexpected nosebleed. Not only is her nosebleed unexpected but so also is her visit to her friend Hazel (Karen Vickery), who now lives in this sand-bagged cottage with her husband Robin (Michael Sparks).

It’s quickly revealed that the two friends have not seen each other in over thirty years, and as they excitedly try to bring each other up to date about their lives during that time, their conversation, initially light hearted, ranges through inevitable topics like ageing, menopause, grandchildren, Hazel’s eldest daughter, Loren, and Rose’s boyfriend, Douglas.

However it’s also revealed that there has been a recent tsunami in the area, which flooded the nearby nuclear powerhouse, creating a radiation scare and forcing Hazel and Robin to abandon of their nearby farm, situated on the edge of the radiation zone, which Robin visits daily to feed their cattle.

Michael Sparks (Robin) - Lainie Hart (Rose) in "The Children"

When Robin returns from this chore, the three friends continue their reminisces, until it’s revealed that Robin and Rose had been in a relationship before he married Hazel, after which their barbs become more destructive and laden with implication.

The revelation that this relationship was not the reason Rose had returned, provides the clue to the title of this fascinating play.

Each of the three actors offers fascinating characterisations. Karen Vickery as the ferocious, dominating Hazel, Lainie Hart as the wily, sophisticated Rose, and Michael Sparks, venal and manipulative as Hazel’s husband and Rose’s ex-lover, Robin, are brilliantly matched adversaries, whose sharply tuned responses and non-verbal reactions are so masterfully achieved as to have the audience torn between laughing at their antics or gasping at their revelations as each mines Lucy Kirkwood’s clever, literate dialogue for opportunities.

Even so, their skill doesn’t rely only on the dialogue; almost as potent is their body language, especially in the unexpectedly hilarious dance sequence performed in a moment of near hysteria.

A thoughtful, relevant play riffing on a subject which should concern every thinking adult, “The Children” is also terrific entertainment which showcases and celebrates the talents of three outstanding Canberra actors. The season is short but catch it if you possibly can.  

                                                       Images by Jane Duong  

     This review also published in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW.