A Number

Published July 8, 2015

What’s it all about?

This is a powerful revival of Caryl Churchill’s masterpiece on the ethics of pushing the boundaries in genetic science. Sound heavy? Only in the best way. In the hands of Constellations director Michael Longhurst and one of theatre’s most exciting rising star designers Tom Scutt, the Young Vic’s revival is an affecting and completely riveting experience far weightier than its 50-minute run.

Take your seat and watch through a one-way mirror flanking the sides of a near empty room. Inside, a son learns the shocking truth of his existence at the age of 35-years-old. We all like to think we’re unique in some way, so what happens when you discover you are, in fact, just one of many clones?

Who’s in it?

Real life father and son John and Lex Shrapnel star. It’s a nice gimmick for sure, but more than this, the pair have an electricity between them that makes Churchill’s rich script fly off the page, both performance’s as strong and visceral as the other.

John, as the father caught out by a devastating lie, is superb; flitting from grovelling to desperate justification as if he has somehow committed this ethically dubious act by accident, out of his moral depth and desperately treading water to keep up with his lies as he reveals the truth piece by piece. John gives such a fragile, broken and sometimes distasteful portrayal, his red faced embarrassment claws out to you and spreads like a tingling, excruciating anxiety.

Equally impressive is Lex, who gives a transformative performance as three of the clones who may look alike but seemingly solve the nature vs nurture debate as they each display very different reactions to the news, from philosophical despair to murderous rage to simplistic indifference.

What should I look out for?

Scutt’s ingenious set. Housing the pair in the minimal room creates both a sterile, detached atmosphere and epitomises the very substance of the play, as the 360 degree surrounding of mirrors creates an infinite number of the actors, their mirrored doppelgangers following their every move.

In a nutshell?

Disturbing and thought-provoking, Michael Longhurst’s stunning and intelligent revival of Caryl Churchill’s ethical masterpiece is brutal and thrilling.

What’s being said on Twitter?

Will I like it?

While Dolly the sheep may be a distant memory and the front pages are now rarely made by genetic breakthroughs, the moral realities of scientific advances in cloning are still a hot debate. Churchill’s superbly crafted piece gives a very human viewpoint on what makes up the very fabric of our identities and Longhurst’s revival provides the debate with a brutal, emotional, dark and riveting platform.

A Number is playing until 8 August. You can book tickets through the Young Vic’s website.

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