23 September 2022
Lucy Kirkwood (born in 1983) is an English playwright whose experience of writing for television and film (she has worked on several well-known TV series, including Skins and Succession) can also be traced in her play The Children. The world premiere of the play in 2016 in London was named the third best production of the 21st century by The Guardian in 2019. In a remote cottage somewhere on the east coast of England, we encounter three protagonists, all three are nuclear physicists, colleagues from thirty years ago, two of whom – a married couple – are now retired, and their friend, who seemed to have “lost herself” in the wide world, and is still active in her professional field, engaging in a seemingly light-hearted and witty conversation. But the reminiscences of their shared youth, during which, as it soon transpires, they were also intertwined intimately, and their discussion of different ways of coping with ageing and the premonition of the ending, gradually turns the play into a very poignant inquiry of the future. Their conversation is impacted by the central event of the play, a recent meltdown at a nearby nuclear power plant they helped to set up together. And now, following the disaster, those working in it need selfless help. To go or not to go there to help, to forgo their comfortable lives or to resign themselves to fate…? The casual rummaging through the past, combined with several unpredictable, but intimately “fatal” revelations, suddenly becomes a relentless enquiry of the future, not just their future, but our future and the future of our – and their – children, that is to say, the future of the human community as such. A questioning that, just like the bells of a world long since submerged described in a vibrant metaphor at the end of the play, pricks our conscience and demands a swift and unequivocal decision. Are they – are we – capable of making it?
Lucy Kirkwood’s play The Children is a relentless inquiry of moral and ethical dilemmas we come across in times of crisis and catastrophes. We have just experienced the threat of the corona virus, which has posed a similar question: should we protect the elderly and vulnerable and forgo educating, career moves and economic stability of the young? Whose life is worth more? Lives of those that have already lived to the full and contributed much to the community, and now deserve dignity and peace in old age? Or is it that the lives of the young, in the process of reaching their goals and aspirations, are worth more? A similar question will be posed in the looming catastrophe of global warming. What kind of life-saving policy will we adopt? Will we cling to our own little plot of land and look after our own well-being, or will we be able to take into account a community, the global community, as we are all inhabitants of the same planet. Is man, overwhelmed by one’s own survival instinct, capable of seeing the needs of the community at all? But here is the most fundamental question of all: whose life is worth more? Just by asking this question loud, I find myself on slippery ground. It is a question that should not be posed at all, since it is perfectly clear that every person’s life is equally worthwhile. But unfortunately, the crisis and catastrophic situation also bring us to this point. That is why I feel it is necessary not to draw any conclusions when staging The Children, but to raise this very question.
I have read the entire play as a metaphor. The nuclear power plant disaster exemplifies the wider and ever-present problem of global warming. The weather conditions brought about by global warming can stop our drinking water and electricity supplies overnight and disrupt transport links, which in turn conditions the delivery of food and other raw materials. The basic situation of the play allows me to address the post-disaster situation in terms of its staging and conceptualisation. Given the time in which we live, this emphasis is necessary.