Broadway Review: ‘The Children’

Lucy Kirkwood's scary play makes tense drama out of the catastrophic results of human meddling in the natural world.

Francesca Annis, Ron Cook, Deborah Findlay.

Pack your bags, people — the apocalypse is coming. This warning comes to you courtesy of Lucy Kirkwood, whose cautionary disaster drama, “The Children,” scared the wits out of audiences at London’s Royal Court Theater and promises to do the same on Broadway, where it recently opened in a Manhattan Theatre Club production.

Its sterling cast intact, Kirkwood’s harrowing play exposes us to the drab lives and dark pasts of three nuclear physicists who meet in a cottage by the sea to contemplate the end of the world. Long-married Hazel (Deborah Findlay) and Robin (Ron Cook) live alone in this dreary cottage and seem to have no neighbors — understandably, since their snug little corner of the world has seen earthquakes, tsunamis, and a nuclear meltdown at the nearby power plant where they once worked.

After an absence of almost 40 years, a former colleague and friend named Rose (Francesca Annis) arrives on a mission that she dramatically refrains from revealing until the very end. But when the play opens, she’s splattered with blood from a fierce nosebleed – a plot detail that can’t be ignored in a talky but ultimately chilling play about the consequences of nuclear fallout.

The three scientists have a lot of history: They worked together on the nuclear power station that looms so large in the plot. To complicate things, Robin once had a relationship with Rose and now seems interested in renewing it – right under his wife’s nose. But Hazel is no dummy, and she might even be the one manipulating this entire romantic charade.

Except for the fact that, in the end, there is no romantic charade, because Kirkwood has far more serious things on her mind than who slept with whom a million years ago. Director James Macdonald, whose credits run to plays by the substantive likes of Caryl Churchill and Christopher Shinn, does a masterful job of deepening and darkening the sense of menace that haunts this strange play. (Peter Mumford’s shrewd lighting design heightens the mood, while Max Pappenheim’s suspenseful use of sound distances us from knowing exactly what is going on here.)

Structurally, the play is composed in the I’ve-got-a-secret storytelling style, which means that the playwright withholds the big payoff until the very end while teasing our expectations with subtle and not-so-subtle clues. It’s a treacherous device, not only because it necessitates a lot of talk that goes nowhere, but also because so much depends on the actors to hold off our impatience. Luckily, these mesmerizing performers could keep us enthralled through any of the cataclysmic events alluded to in the play.

Findlay, a National Theatre stalwart featured in the original local production of “Top Girls,” gives Hazel a will of steel. While projecting the appearance of unwavering control, she hacks the hell out of a defenseless salad she’s preparing for dinner. You really don’t want to turn your back on her when she’s got a knife in her hand.

Rose is the one with the secret, so there’s something faintly menacing about the personal warmth and social congeniality of Annis’s engaging performance.  What does this woman really want, you might wonder, when she casually plays the friendship card? And what of Robin, who seems to have secrets of his own? Cook plays Robin as something of a catalyst figure, a solid center in an uneasy world, but someone who might also blow this whole place up with an unguarded word.

Reparation and redemption are the wistful themes of this morose play about the catastrophic results of human meddling in the natural world.  But it’s way too late for the generation who killed the planet to kiss it and make it all better, and none of their feelings of guilt and regret will matter when the Big Wave comes – and it will.

Broadway Review: 'The Children'

Samuel J. Friedman Theater; 650 seats; $149 top. Opened, reviewed, Dec. 12, 2017. Running time: 1 HOUR, 50 MIN.

Production: A presentation by the Manhattan Theater Club and the Royal Court Theater of a production, originally commissioned and produced by the Royal Court, of a play in one act by Lucy Kirkwood.

Creative: Directed by James Macdonald. Set & costumes, Miriam Buether; lighting and projections, Peter Mumford; sound, Max Pappenheim; production stage manager, Martha Donaldson.

Cast: Francesca Annis, Ron Cook, Deborah Findlay.

More Legit

  • the way she spoke review

    Off Broadway Review: 'The Way She Spoke' With Kate del Castillo

    Since the 1990s, scores of women in Juarez, Mexico have been mutilated, raped, and murdered at such a rate that some have called it an epidemic of femicide—killing women and girls solely because they are women. Isaac Gomez’s play “the way she spoke,” produced Off Broadway by Audible and starring Kate del Castillo, confronts the [...]


    Brian Cox Playing LBJ in Broadway Run of 'The Great Society'

    Brian Cox will play President Lyndon Johnson in the Broadway run of “The Great Society,” playwright Robert Schenkkan’s follow-up to “All the Way.” The role of Johnson, a crude, but visionary politician who used the office of the presidency to pass landmark civil rights legislation and social programs, was originally played by Bryan Cranston in [...]

  • Paul McCartney Has Penned Score for

    Paul McCartney Has Been Secretly Writing an 'It's a Wonderful Life' Musical

    The pop superstar who once released a movie and album called “Give My Regards to Broad Street” really does have designs on Broadway, after all. It was revealed Wednesday that Paul McCartney has already written a song score for a stage musical adaptation of the 1946 Frank Capra film classic “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The [...]

  • The Night of the Iguana review

    West End Review: 'The Night of the Iguana' With Clive Owen

    If Tennessee Williams is the poet laureate of lost souls, none of his characters as are off-grid as the restless travelers trying to make it through his little-seen 1961 play, “The Night of the Iguana.” Holed up in a remote Mexican homestay, its ragtag itinerants live hand-to-mouth, day by day, as they seek refuge from [...]

  • Moulin Rouge Broadway

    Listen: The Special Sauce in Broadway's 'Moulin Rouge!'

    There are songs in the new Broadway version of “Moulin Rouge!” that weren’t in Baz Luhrmann’s hit movie — but you probably know them anyway. They’re popular tunes by superstars like Beyoncé, Adele and Rihanna, released after the 2001 movie came out, and they’ll probably unleash a flood of memories and associations in every audience [...]

  • Greta Gerwig and Oscar Isaac

    Greta Gerwig and Oscar Isaac to Star in Anton Chekhov's 'Three Sisters' Adaptation

    Greta Gerwig and Oscar Isaac are taking on an adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s “Three Sisters” for New York Theatre Workshop in Manhattan. The company announced on Tuesday that they will feature two final performances to round out the 2019 to 2020 season, including the Chekhov play. “Three Sisters” will be directed by Tony award-winning Sam [...]

  • montreal just for laughs Comedy Festival

    Montreal's Just for Laughs Festival Is the 'Coachella of Comedy'

    Every summer, Montreal becomes the epicenter of the comedy world as the Just for Laughs Comedy Festival takes over the Canadian city. Now in its 37th year, the mindboggling scale of the festival is there in the numbers: more than 1,600 artists from across the globe (speaking English, French and other languages) performing 250 shows [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content