Paul T Davies reviews Lucy Kirkwood’s play Mosquitoes starring Olivie Coleman and Olivia Williams streaming on the National Theatre at Home platform.
National Theatre at Home
Watch It Here
The best thing about a streaming service like National Theatre at Home is that you can watch shows that were impossible to get tickets for. Staged in the Dorfman, Lucy Kirkwood’s 2017 play starred Olivia Coleman and Olivia Williams, and for those two alone tickets were like gold dust. What a joy, therefore, to watch the production online, even though the terrible sound quality stops it from getting the full five stars.
Sisters Alice and Jenny are at the heart of the play. Alice, (Olivia Williams), is brilliant, a scientist working on the launch of the Hydron Collider, organised, juggling the demands of the job with bringing up her teenage son, Luke. Jenny, (Coleman), is more chaotic, pregnant at the beginning of the play, a smoker, reeling from the loss of her daughter, who died after contracting measles. (Jenny refused to have the child vaccinated due to scare stories and reports she read, thus the play becomes very contemporary).
As you’d expect, Coleman and Williams are excellent, capturing the clashes of science v nature, order v chaos, spontaneity v planning. They, of course, collide, just as the Large Hadron Collider is launched. But it’s an exceptional performance by Joseph Quinn as Luke that almost steals the show. Riven by teenage angst, bullied in a really terrible school, in love with a hideous girl, desperate for his mother to notice what he is going through, missing his father, who disappeared ten years earlier. And that parent is present in the figure of The Bosun, an impressive narrator figure played by Paul Hilton, who may be Luke’s missing father or maybe the Higgs Bosun particle itself, such is the ambition and scope of Kirkwood’s script.
It’s a play brimming with ideas, too many in places as it is a tad long, but Kirkwood makes science and ambition entertaining by foregrounding the family drama. There’s also a brilliant performance by Amanda Boxer as Alice and Jenny’s mother Karen, a once brilliant scientist in her own right, robbed of her Noble Prize because of her gender, now battling incontinence and memory loss. The theme of the side-lining of female scientists is maybe one to many for the play, but it’s beautifully affecting, as is the role change of the sisters as Jenny becomes more practical and Alice more hysterical when Luke goes missing for a few days. The real star of the show, however, is Paule Constables’ breath-taking lighting design and Katrina Lynsey’s design, powerfully taking us through big bangs, time, and science in a thoroughly entertaining way. It’s such a shame the sound is so poor in this recording, and my PC has good speakers! Every time the actors move from the central dais, they become faint and muffled, spoiling some great one-liners in this witty, exciting, wonderfully ambitious play.