Caryl Churchill’s A Number is a harrowing choice for lunchtime theatre but any trauma felt is ameliorated by the care that director Lyn McAndrew shows her audience. McAndrew, welcomes, suggests seating, introduces the play, and leads a post-performance discussion. Her devotion to the audience, the performance, and Rapture Theatre is palpable.
In Eden Court’s One Touch Theatre, the small audience are close, almost seated alongside the two actors in their rundown lounge. The set is a small oasis of familiarity surrounded by darkness – a very ordinary setting for extraordinary events.
Before the play starts we are bombarded by a cacophony of noise. These are all the sounds mentioned throughout the play: the underground train, a barking dog, a child shouting. Silence falls and the lights go up on two men talking, but the previous uproar has signalled an ominous undercurrent.
The dialogue is full of Churchill’s trademarks: unfinished sentences and fragments of information. Five vignettes delve into the relationship between a father and son, with Churchill avoiding concrete facts, instead leaving the audience’s imagination to fill the gaps and the horror lies in what is left unsaid.
Salter, played by Robin Kingsland, dodges around the truth wanting to preserve some perfection from long ago which may never have existed. He gives an emotional performance of a man struggling to find meaning through rewriting history. Similarly, Paul Albertson mesmerises as his voice and body recreate three versions of Salter’s son: the violent Bernard 1, the nervy Bernard 2, and the sanguine Michael Black.
Although A Number was first performed in 2002 its subject matter feels relevant. While the plot concerns a father who has cloned his son, only to discover that the medical team has not produced one replica but several, the play is as much about family dynamics. Is it possible to forgive the past? Can one escape retribution for one’s wrongs?
This is a play about grief, abuse and anguish. One that asks the question: which is more important nurture or nature? Although deserving a larger audience, the intimacy of this performance, means that the small Eden Court audience are able to join more fully in the heartbreak shown on stage and the performance is stronger for it.