Let me fangirl about the set. I love a good set. Designed by John Hodgkins, it was Circa-level out of this world. It feels like a real house, with cupboards, mugs, books on the bookshelves, coats and hats hanging in the entranceway, the beautiful wood work of the floor, kitchen, and table: it feels quite English-y. The edges of the stage are smudged in charcoal-like paint, indicating the unpropitious exterior environment. The fact that there were only two chairs at the kitchen table, despite having one perfectly good wooden chair by the fridge was also a clever way of physically depicting the dichotomy of the three characters of the play. The whole set was elevated somewhat, showing the house on its bones, its stilts, with white stones covering the ground. This was well integrated with the lighting design by Marcus McShane, as the stones were actually on glass panels that were back lit at the beginning and end of the play. Both the set and the lighting here played into the idea of something malignant about the land the house was built on.
Another great moment of lighting design was the choice of amber particularly at the start. Amber can suggest dawn or dusk, both liminal periods of the day, indicating a two-fold choice to be made: yes or no? My friend also noticed how the light on the windows helped show time passing, moving from red to blue, morning to evening, as the play progressed.
The script leaves some gaps for more character development. Apart from the potential to be adapted as a completely New Zealand story (the mention of pounds the only thing setting this in the UK), there were also emotional moments that were explained briefly later on. But most importantly, Hazel and Robin had four children but only one was named: Lauren. Her presence in the play via the phone had the potential for a greater emotional arc and she could have been a catalyst character, but neither of these truly came to fruition. We never knew what she was so angry about or if she actually had some sort of condition.
While the set felt English-y, none of the characters had real English accents. This made me wonder whether or not it was set in an alternative New Zealand where we did have nuclear reactors. Or, that this was a story of a white couple who lived in Fukushima, Japan. I wanted the story to reflect a modern setting and some contemporary commenting on our very real, very present climate change issues. I thought the 2011 Fukushima disaster would have been perfect. I mean, the external oven did look kinda Japanese-y… But that was a stretch, and also me wanting the story to be something that it wasn’t. Then, when pounds were mentioned, I was instantly told that we were in the UK, England probably, and my heart sank. Apart from being our “mother country”, what is the relevance of telling a British story in New Zealand without immersing the play in our world, or an imagined future one?
The first half of the play was naturalistic in setting up the relationship between Rose and Hazel. While my friend said this dragged a bit, I felt it was real-life awkward, as these two women who obviously don’t have a lot in common, watching them make chit-chat and pretend they’re friends. Rose was meant to be the protagonist of the show, but I struggled to connect with her, despite respecting her choice to not pursue marriage and children and focus instead on her banging career. Perhaps it was her odd sense of humour, or the way that the character couldn’t quite command the space like Hazel could because it’s not her home.
I did find that McGlone was able to show more emotional range than any other actor on stage, and I’m not sure if this is because her character goes through a whirlwind of a time, the fact that Hazel is a pretty badass feminist, or if McGlone was able to connect with Hazel’s emotional core better.
Hambleton, however, when the jovial Robin first comes on stage, he proceeds to put on a myriad of accents. To me, this just felt like Hambleton showing off, reminding the audience how good of an actor he was. Robin is a physicist and I’m not entirely convinced someone like Robin would be able to pull off such linguistic feats (perhaps he would have mastered one accent or voice in his lifetime?), no matter how playful he is as a character. Robin failed to connect with me as well because he seemed like a frivolous, superficial character, despite being in a seemingly loving relationship for forty years. He only had one moment of true depth that came too late to win me over with his charms.
Having characters that have bad personalities on stage is not a bad thing. If anything, it’s rather enjoyable to watch. I did find myself slowly asking “Why is Hazel with this guy? She can do so much better.” The answer is love. I do believe, however, there were things missing - lack of sense of place, emotional lapses in the script, and an un-commanding protagonist - from making this a wow-production.
I love the overall environmental message of the play, and did leave me wondering: what is our future? How to we band together? And it’s through characters like Rose who propose perhaps outrageous solutions that we might have a chance. The message is the same: together, something can change. I hold onto that.
The Children is on at Circa Theatre until the 27th of April, at various times. Check the website for more details.