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Mosquitoes, National Theatre review - Olivias Colman and Williams dazzle amid dramatic excess | reviews, news & interviews

Mosquitoes, National Theatre review - Olivias Colman and Williams dazzle amid dramatic excess

Mosquitoes, National Theatre review - Olivias Colman and Williams dazzle amid dramatic excess

Lucy Kirkwood play fusing science and familial disarray is as exhausting as it is enlightening

Sister act: Olivia Williams and Olivia Colman in 'Mosquitoes'Brinkhoff/Mogenburg

There's enough plot for a dozen plays buzzing its way through Mosquitoes, Lucy Kirkwood's play that uses the backdrop of the Large Hadron Collidor (LHC) to chronicle the multiple collisions within a family. Veering off now and then into discussion of particle physics, Rufus Norris's furiously busy production is anchored by Olivia Colman and Olivia Williams as largely fractious siblings enmeshed in a spiralling landscape of sexting, career sabotage, incipient senility, and a helluva lot more.

Any one of these topics might have made a play all its own, and the accomplished creative team here on hand struggles to contain Kirkwood's disparate strands under one cosmic roof. It's admirable, for sure, when writing forsakes the merely quotidian to aim at something larger: Tony Kushner's Perestroika in the National Theatre auditorium next door proves that dramatic untidiness can be its own, expansive reward. But it's difficult on this occasion not to feel that a lot of the scientific chat isn't simply so much window dressing amplifying an essentially quotidian domestic drama. Factor in the sizeable leaps in logic required at times by the plot, and you have an experience that exhausts at least as often as it enlightens. Amanda Boxer and Olivia Colman in 'Mosquitoes'Luckily, Norris has found two lead actresses who elicit empathy even when the actual material seems determined to forestall it. Williams plays Alice, a Switzerland-based scientist and brainiac who has devoted her life to pioneering work with the LHC even as concerns mount as to whether science is wreaking havoc with our planet's safety. Colman is Alice's less-clever, Luton-based sister Jenny, who guzzles Rescue Remedy, revels in her own racism, and wishes multiple sclerosis on the putative girlfriend of her angry, often-absent nephew, Luke (Joseph Quinn). Charming, eh?

Alice looks out into the vast unknown and is abetted towards that end by the gnomic if familially connnected figure of The Boson (Paul Hilton), who shows up now and again to roam the periphery of Katrina Lindsay's circular, metaphor-rich set and enumerate the ways in which the world might end. He also indulges in one of those quasi-epilogues (here situated before the actual ending) in which we are told what will happen in time to at least one of the central characters; alas, it isn't pretty.

Throw into the mix the cane-wielding figure of the sisters' malign mum, Karen (Amanda Boxer, pictured above left with Colman), who is having issues with both incontinence and memory loss and you've got an ever-thickening stew that all but threatens to boil over. It doesn't help that the splendid Boxer has to play one of those stage creations who is so evidently a "character" (one thinks of the defiant grandma in Billy Elliot) that she can't help but after a while feel inauthentic: her bizarre spanking scene has to be seen to be believed. 

Joseph Quinn in 'Mosquitoes', with Olivia WilliamsIt's Karen who first voices the play's title and, later, speaks of love being "way down the list" (gravity and Super Glue, she says, come first) of life's essential concerns. A brood knit together, it would seem, largely by rage provides the connective tissue to a play that teases out the contrast between Jenny, who loses an infant child early on, and Alice, who risks sacrificing her teenage son on the altar of work and a project that has consumed her life for 11 years.

That same adolescent is an apparent chip off the old block when it comes to mental prowess; in an incident-packed second act, he is seen seriously damaging his mum's career via a spiteful (and worse) action whose consequences are highly improbably glossed over. Played to a nervy fare-thee-well by the fast-rising Quinn (pictured above left with Williams), Luke is thwarted in his own sexual awakening in the company of schoolmate Natalie (a vivid Sofia Barclay), who turns out to be no less embittered and rancorous than anyone else in a play with scarcely a sympathetic figure on view. Providing intermittent flashes of calm and charm is Alice's Swiss boyfriend, Henri (Yoli Fuller, excellent), whom Jenny lunges at in her own playlet of sexual anticipation gone awry. (Elsewhere, she amply praises her nephew's penis: I kid you not.) 

After a while, one seriously wonders why any one member of this family would want anything to do with any of the others, though something about Williams and Colman in performance hints at an indissoluble bond that isn't borne out by the writing. You believe both women at every turn, whether sitting conjoined back-to-back like a set of not-quite twins or dissolving into mutual recrimination and tears, as you might too if you had a looney-tune mum whose mention of "an inescapable terror" calls to mind the work of Edward Albee. The ever-welcome Williams projects intelligence, strength, and despair as needed, and you feel what it costs Alice when she derides her sister as "the fucking apocalypse": this family's own black hole. Colman, in turn, communicates the tyranny of the weak with the incisive wit this actress perfected long ago. In fact, so on point is she with her witticisms and barbs that you wonder why Jenny doesn't forsake these toxic relations altogether and go off and get a job as penning withering gags. To pick up afresh on Kirkwood's title, this character has learned better than any of the human blood-suckers around her just how to sting. 

After a while, one seriously wonders why any one member of this family would want anything to do with any of the others

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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