After the vast proportions of her 2013 play, Chimerica (seen here in 2017) – a multi-scene, huge-cast exploration of American–Chinese relations – Lucy Kirkwood’s The Children – a one-set, three-character play – might seem like something of a chamber piece. But if it is physically small in scale, thematically it is even more challenging.
It takes place in a dilapidated cottage on the crumbling east coast of England just outside the exclusion zone of a ruined nuclear power station. As the play begins, we see a woman attempting to staunch a ferocious nosebleed. This, we discover, is Rose, a nuclear scientist who used to work at the plant and who has unexpectedly appeared at the cottage of two erstwhile colleagues, Hazel and Robin. Kirkwood is adept at drip-feeding her audience relevant information and dropping hints like depth-charges which explode at the play’s climax, and she gradually reveals the details of the disaster. An earthquake followed by a tsunami echoes the Fukushima catastrophe, and the devastating results are much the same. Hazel and Robin have retreated from their ruined house to this cottage and are attempting to live as normal a life as possible in the circumstances. The super-efficient Hazel keeps the house running while Robin heads off each day, Hazel tells Rose, to tend their cows, stranded in the exclusion zone.