It is clear from the first that Nuclear Family, by Sunday’s Child and Fever Dream, is something different. The audience is met at the door to Assembly Roxy by the “event facilitator” and led down to the Snug Bar. A single row of assorted chairs (those who arrive first can claim the comfortable armchairs) is arranged around a desk covered in computer monitors from the 1990s. The audience is then welcomed to the focus group they’ve joined, possibly unwittingly, part of an ongoing investigation into the Ashtown Nuclear Disaster of 1996.
Ellen and Joe Lynum, security guards at the Ashtown Nuclear Power Plant, may or may not have been responsible for the disaster, and the purpose of this investigation is to review the decisions they made, and what the alternatives might have been. Drawing from theatre practitioner Augusto Boal’s concept of Forum Theatre, Nuclear Family requires the audience to participate actively in shaping the show by voting on all the crucial decisions the siblings face. As the audience is told from the beginning that the disaster did happen, there is a sense of fatalism in the decision-making, as one would assume that no matter what options are chosen, the disaster cannot be averted – and yet, this does not stop people from trying to make the best choice.
The “video footage” starts off on a light-hearted note, with some sibling banter mocking each others’ relationships. The situation escalates quickly, as a series of small, easily-made human errors, set against a backdrop of poor management, turn catastrophic. Eva O’Connor and Adam Devereux are brilliant as Ellen and Joe, and watching them face impossible decisions is truly heart-rending. There are some pretty heavy decisions that must be taken by the audience, all of whom are, on this occasion at least, actively involved in debating the provided information. It is interesting to see what choices other audience members make, and given the number of nearly unanimous votes on this occasion, it would be interesting to know how often other groups come to different decisions.
Nuclear Family is a surprisingly emotional story, considering the level of analytic participation required of the audience, and certainly thought-provoking. The choices that must be made are enough to make anyone who works in theatre glad that they don’t have a job with that much responsibility over life and death.