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A Number, Bridge Theatre review - a dream team dazzles anew | reviews, news & interviews

A Number, Bridge Theatre review - a dream team dazzles anew

A Number, Bridge Theatre review - a dream team dazzles anew

Roger Allam and Colin Morgan refashion Caryl Churchill's contemporary classic

Father and sons: Roger Allam and Colin Morgan in 'A Number' Johan Persson

There are any number of ways to perform A Number, Caryl Churchill’s bleak and beautiful play about a father and three of who knows how many of his genetically cloned sons. Since it first opened at the Royal Court in 2002, this hourlong two-hander has been staged in London with some regularity, as often as not with actual fathers and sons (Tim and Sam West, John and Lex Shrapnel).

There are any number of ways to perform A Number, Caryl Churchill’s bleak and beautiful play about a father and three of who knows how many of his genetically cloned sons. Since it first opened at the Royal Court in 2002, this hourlong two-hander has been staged in London with some regularity, as often as not with actual fathers and sons (Tim and Sam West, John and Lex Shrapnel). But director Polly Findlay’s entirely fresh take for the Bridge Theatre is the most literal I have yet seen, and also the most lacerating: this Number may not have family on its side, but it certainly boasts two formidable actors. 

 A Number tells of a widower called Salter (Roger Allam) and three of what – thanks to the vagaries of cloning – are an array of his children, each of whom is played with quiet bravura by Colin Morgan. First on the scene is B2, as this especially fretful iteration of Bernard is called, followed by the older, and angrier, B1, who nurses an unquenchable rage and has spent time in care. The sweetest and least complicated of the trio, Michael, appears last, and Morgan here deploys his own Northern Irish accent to moving effect to suggest someone almost apologetically at ease in his own skin, in contrast with a father whose furrowed brow precedes his every anxious query. Morgan individuates the other, antagonistic sons with startling force, at one choice moment catching himself in the mirror as if to acknowledge the hall of mirrors that Churchill's play in some way is. 

Roger Allam and Colin Morgan in 'A Number' While previous productions have tended to abstract the play to some placeless locale, Findlay and her expert designer, Lizzie Clachan (seen concurrently across town with a second Churchill revival in Far Away), here insist upon the recognisably domestic. The five short scenes shift perspective with dizzying speed on a household alive with rancour and regret, and the ever-wonderful Allam, shoulders as often as not slumped, is at no point more arresting than when pacing the stage in silence in-between face-offs with one son or another: a man unable to come to peace who must piece together the scattered genetic shards that constitute his offspring. (The performance couldn't be more different from the equally superb approach to the part proffered by its bearish, burly originator, Michael Gambon, at the Court.) 

Allam and Morgan appeared opposite one another in The Tempest at Shakespeare’s Globe in 2013 and are a dream team again, finding the beating pulse in a play steeped in matters of ethics and science that asks fundamental questions about humanity: what is it in life that shapes us? From where (or whom) do we derive satisfaction, value, love? Note the way in which happiness, or its absence, is broached throughout (in the very final exchange, most tellingly) as one son after another comes under interrogation by a father beaten back by self-reproach. The play works not least as a thriller or bit of forensic detection, as Churchill plants clues prompting a reevaluation of the narrative at every turn. 

It can be tempting to applaud the result as an exercise in formal experimentation with moments of absurdist comedy folded into the mix, and anyone expecting an exercise in theatrical penance should prepare for no small share of laughs. And yet, Findlay and her supremely nimble cast ensure that A Number lands with brute, knockout force. One emerges as ever stunned by the sheer breadth of Churchill’s imagination and wondering where her inimitably magpie mind might take us next.

 

 

 

Anyone expecting an exercise in theatrical penance should prepare for no small share of laughs

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Average: 4 (1 vote)

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