What with the grand Lyttelton Theatre and the imposing Olivier Theatre, it’s very easy to forget there’s another space at the National. Round the back, behind the bikesheds, the Dorfman re-opened under that name in September 2014; before then it was the Cottesloe. I read that it underwent a transformation giving it greater sightlines (tick, our view was great) and more comfortable seating (really? It must have been agony before!) I had to check back to see the last time I’d been to the Cottesloe – it was for Dispatches, in July 1979. That’s a gap of 38 years. Blimey. Mind you, that’s not my longest gap between theatre visits to a particular London theatre; like many people, I suspect, I’ve not been to St. Martin’s Theatre since it became the home for The Mousetrap. Last time I was there was in September 1972 for Sleuth. Lord Lumme.
But I digress. Our main motivation to book to see Mosquitoes was not simply to visit the Dorfman, but to see one of our current favourite actors perform in the flesh – the wonderful Olivia Colman. I know that’s a dangerous tactic – if Ms Colman was indisposed, would we have minded? Yes, probably. However, she was disposed to appear and jolly fine she was too – but more of the performances later.
Mosquitoes is written by Lucy Kirkwood, whose NSFW we saw at the Edinburgh fringe in the summer and what a sparky little play that was; and so, unsurprisingly, is this. It’s the story of two sisters; one, cerebral, reserved, with apparently impeccable judgment; a scientist researching on the Higgs Boson project and a pillar of the Geneva Science community. The other is the opposite; corporeal, extremely outgoing and pragmatic, totally flawed and fallible and living in Luton. The scientist (Alice) has a troublesome teenage son (Luke); her sister (Jenny) lost her baby due to a stupid belief that the MMR vaccine is harmful. Making up the happy family is their mother, Karen; once a great scientist in her own right, now a querulous busybody who enjoys making outrageous demands and being shocking, as the early signs of dementia kick in. As the particle collider project comes to a head, Alice’s family make it more and more difficult for her to enjoy the fruits of her research. And when Luke goes missing, it’s the final straw… or is it…?!
Ms Kirkwood’s writing style is a pure delight: feisty, modern, unpredictable and completely believable. Her characters are beautifully sculpted and you get tantalising glimpses into their back-stories and emotions, even if they don’t affect the tale she’s currently telling. The result is a satisfyingly full piece; there’s so much there to consider and to enjoy beyond the plot itself. At times, Rufus Norris’ production is visually vivid with the excitement of the collider project – news screens on the walls, colourful patterns and projections on the floor and instrumentation (in fact, it reminded me of the good old days of the London Planetarium); at others, it’s suitably sparse and pared back, allowing the emotions of the characters take control of the stage. Paul Arditti’s stunning sound effects stop you in your tracks or jolt you out of your seat, depending on how much of a surprise they are. As a fiesta of sight and sound it all has a tremendous impact.
My only quibble with the play is what is surely a hugely unexpected and unlikely outcome regarding the plot development. Without giving too much away, someone does something in this play which you would expect would result in a considerable prison sentence. Someone else carries the can and deliberately takes the blame. However, that person appears to spend no more than a long weekend at Her Majesty’s pleasure (or the Swiss Chancellor’s pleasure I suppose). Given the characters involved, and the legal consequences of what happened, I found it all ridiculously hard to believe.
Lucy Kirkwood’s writing and characters are brought to life by some top-quality performances. Olivia Colman is fantastic as Jenny; a portrayal of someone getting through life just the best she can, despite all the awful things that life throws at her. She’s warm and funny; she’s hostile and challenging; she’s daring and reprehensible; she’s brave and fearless. She gives every aspect of her fascinating character a truly honest airing and she’s just a joy to watch. Olivia Williams makes a fine opponent for her sororal swordplay; her Alice is a splendidly confident, assertive person but when she feels let down by her nearest and dearest she shows she has vulnerability too. Ms Williams treads a beautiful balance between strength and helplessness in a very fine performance.
Joseph Quinn plays the horrendous Luke with just the right level of awkwardness and brattishness; another vulnerable character, Mr Quinn plays him so that he’s not particularly likeable – which is probably very accurate – even when Natalie (a strong confident performance from Sofia Barclay) treats him with cruelty. Their beautifully written “sex scene” – if you can call it that – is played with tremendous humour. Paul Hilton takes the intriguing but not entirely successful role of The Boson, masterminding, observing and expressing all the scientific processes like a slightly mad boffin. I will confess, he sometimes lost me in all that rigmarole. I was always useless at Physics.
Yoli Fuller is a charismatic Henri, and the other minor roles are all played with great conviction. The other star of the show is a wonderfully funny and strangely moving performance by Amanda Boxer as Karen; resolute in her determination not to be put out to pasture either domestically by her daughters or professionally by younger scientists. She’s great at dishing out the haranguing, domineering, battleaxe material, and then retreats into that wheedling, self-obsessed, hard-done-by attitude only too familiar to those with, shall we say, tenacious mothers. Superb.
The fact that the 2 hours 40 minutes fly by without your checking your watch is a testament to what an enjoyable production it is. A funny and thought-provoking play, causing human emotions and the clinical world of science to collide like particles in a lab. Beautifully performed and highly recommended, despite the somewhat incredible plot resolution!
P. S. I’m not going to leave it another 38 years before I come back to the Dorfman. Mrs Chrisparkle and I had a pre-theatre lunch at The Green Room directly next door to the National; plenty of gluten-free choices and I can thoroughly recommend it.
Production photos by Brinkhoff/Mogenburg and Alistair Muir
3 thoughts on “Review – Mosquitoes, National Theatre, Dorfman Theatre, 16th September 2017”
These photographs are superb. Thank you.
The unwelcome & utterly unbelievable plot twist – is that described correctly? – is something we encountered (in 2012?) at an (unfortunately) unforgettable performance at the Manhattan Theater Club (NYC).
The (greatly simplified) plot centered around the tension between a mother and daughter.
The casting was 50-50 — the “mother” actress was divine and the “daughter” actress was the current “fashion’s darling”: completely miscast / incompetent.
(A year later, we went to something else — “Humans” — and there SHE was again — or so I thought, horrified. Later that evening, checking the contrasting Playbills I discovered that these were TWO, almost physically identical people!)
The first of two acts ended with the daughter successfully bribing her mother with $10,000. This was so insane (there is no other word for it; “implausible” is too polite a word), in so many ways, that was it for us, our real money wasted, and we huffed out during the intermission. The people in our row, I noticed as we slid sideways to exit the seats, were equally befuddled / annoyed.
(Did the second act conclude with Mom giving the Daughter the $10,000 back, because she had landed on Park Place?)
Every since them, we’ve been on the MTC’s mailing list, and wow, are they wasting a good coin or two sending us their invitations. Tear them up & spend one’s time productively — for instance. reading “84 Charing Cross,” which I finally got around to in August, to my delight. Too bad I wasted well more than 38 years before ending my procrastination!
Come to think of it, “Humans” sailed along very well until the over-long production introduced the deus ex machina gimmick of one of the characters having missed by divine intervention having been trapped in the World Trade Center on 09/11 (my condolences to those injured in your recent terrorist subway bombing).
Wow. Credibility lost, Instantly. For some reason, it just didn’t fit in; it offended.
Comic Relief: Yesterday, an American football team’s cheer-leading squad fired off a cannon (blank round) to celebrate their team’s “winning” field-goal attempt.
Then they realized that their kicker missed.
I feel your pain regarding the stupidly unbelievable plot twist. Incidentally, I read on Wikipedia – so it must be true – that the writer Lucy Kirkwood is under commission to write a science based play for… the Manhattan Theater Club! I’ll leave it up to you whether or not you tear that invitation up!
Great story about the slightly misjudged cannon fire to celebrate the winning goal. Like rubbing salt in the kicker’s wound!
Here are our Cleveland Ohio football fans in 2016 attempting to spelling “Dawg Pound”
“D.P.” is the name of the section in the stadium where the fans gnaw on dog biscuits. Gluten-free, no doubt.
Their baseball team just having won 22 games in a row, I think they’ve recovered, nicely, from this embarrassment.
I would also laud their recent basketball championship, but now is as good a time as any for England to be formally notified that, in the opinion of some Americans, basketball isn’t a sport.
Otherwise, the ancient Romans would have played it, and their empire would have been saved (the otherwise unstoppable Visigoths being hopeless at the free-throw line).
And from there, in an uninterrupted straight line to the present, one of the historical way stations would have been the predominant Hapsburg Hoops League in the Holy Rebound Empire, the coverage of which would have prompted the creation of the tabloid newspapers five hundred years ahead of schedule.
Just finished “Siegfried Sassoon [1886-1967], A Life,” by Max Egremont [1947- ; born John Wyndham; 2nd Baron Egremont] (2005).
My suspicion is that Egremont started off with a positive opinion of the poet-warrior. Then, the more he found out about SS, & the Sassoon poetry he encountered for the first time (3rd rate, never read prior to doing his research), the less & less enthusiasm Old Max could muster up about his subject.
The Domino Effect: Sassoon became more & more of a recluse; Max’s leaking balloon started to drop out of the sky; Don’s eye started wandering over to the his To Read Shelf, wondering, “Hmm… what’s next? Anything about 15th century Norwegian stamp collectors over there?”