With impeccable timing, the week the National Science Foundation published the first picture of a black hole, Sydney Theatre Company opened its production of Mosquitoes, Lucy Kirkwood’s exploration of the gulf between supposedly rational scientific knowledge and the vagaries of the human heart. Kirkwood has never been afraid of confronting big themes. In Chimerica (2013), she examined the relationship between the two superpowers China and America, while in The Children (2016) she explored the culpability of the boomer generation for the present fragile state of the planet. So when she accepted a Sloane commission from the Manhattan Theatre Club to write a play with a scientific theme, she was not going to think small, and by setting her play around the disastrous first attempt to switch on the Large Hadron Collider in 2008, she has taken on the universe.
The heart of Mosquitoes (which had its première at London’s National Theatre in 2017) is the relationship between two sisters: Alice, a cerebral analytical particle physicist who has spent the past eleven years working at the LHC; and Jenny, her chaotic irrational sibling. As Jenny puts it, ‘I’m Forrest Gump and you’re the Wizard of fucking Oz.’ Kirkwood, writing as the Brexit disaster unfolded, has said one of the themes of the play is that ‘we can’t seem to separate fact from feeling’. Jenny’s susceptibility to fearmongering internet propositions infuriates her sister and causes a family tragedy that reverberates through the play.