Theatre Review: A number

I studied Carol Churchill’s Top Girls at university. Despite that, I remain interested in her plays and have even been to see a performance of Top Girls at the Trafalgar Studios. I also took friends to see her play Far Away in 2000, a play we have referred to since as “the one with hats”.

But neither of those are the plays in question today (although Far Away is back in performance again at the London Theatre). This review is of A Number, written around the time when the cloning of Dolly the sheep was big news.

A number is on at the Bridge Theatre – a new venue for me, located – as the name indicates – by a bridge, Tower Bridge to be exact. It’s a modern theatre, and I love a modern theatre for two reasons:

1. They are built to ensure every seat has a good view. None of this West-End-old-theatre nonsense of sitting behind a pillar with an obscured view of the stage. No. Every seat, to the stage, clear view.

View from our seats at the Bridge Theatre

2. Adequate toilet facilities. None of this 1800s-Victorian-theatre-nonsense of three toilets for 1400 people. Banks of cubicles, that’s what I like to see at the theatre. And I don’t mind if these toilets are gender neutral. There’s enough space in there, why not let the men in too?

But here’s me digressing from my review of the play itself.

A Number. That’s also the opening line. A father and son are talking about the son’s discovery that he is one of a number of clones. How many he’s not sure, but he’s one of “a number.” As the play progresses, the father meets other clones and the audience comes to understand why there are several of the same person.

It’s a short play, running about an hour. Colin Morgan plays the son(s), in a range of attitudes, personalities and accents. Roger Allam plays the father, at the start seemingly a nice enough man but how did he end up with multiple sons? Secrets from his past start to emerge through the conversations with his sons.

The play is well acted and the staging is intriguing, each act reveals the father’s home from a different angle (I couldn’t work out how the background sets changed) to emphasise that each scene provided the story from a different son’s angle.

Did I like the play? I’m not sure I did. The unnatural dialogue – a trademark of a Caryl Churchill apparently – made it harder to lose myself in the plot. None of the characters were ultimately likeable, something which always leaves me a little cold, and the play was so short I didn’t have time to develop strong feelings about anyone.

I would recommend instead you go see “the one with the hats.”

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