The Children, Royal Court

Millennials blame baby boomers for a lot. As a millennial, albeit one born in the boundary year (if I were 6 months older I would not fall in this much-maligned generation), I very much align with my over educated, low paid, debt-laden and non-home owning peers. We largely view baby boomers as a group of privileged people who made a secure life for themselves whilst instituting policies and structures that eventually caused financial and environmental devastation, and they are too blinkered to see the impact on those younger than them. Of course, this is a sweeping generalisation – not all boomers are aloof and selfish, and not all millennials are moaning victims. But this generalisation hugely influences the lens through which one views Lucy Kirkwood’s The Children – a kitchen sink drama of three 60-somethings in a cottage overlooking the sea, each with very different views on their generation’s responsibilities to the wider world.

Kirkwood’s script takes its time getting around to the dramatic reveal of just why Rose (Francesca Annis) turns up at the door of her friends and former colleagues, married couple Hazel (Deborah Findlay) and Robin (Ron Cook) after nearly 40 years. The three were nuclear engineers at a power station 10 miles away that’s now damaged from an earthquake. The current staff charged with the plant’s cleanup and decommission, all in their 20s and 30s, are getting sick. What is the moral responsibility of these retired engineers? Hazel and Robin have grown children and grandchildren, and comfortable lives they earned after years of hard work. They’re busy enjoying retirement and their family, with little notice of the world around them. Rose’s life followed a very different trajectory and as such, has a world view totally different from Hazel and Robin’s. It’s in this discrepancy that conflict is born and polarise the audience. Though Kirkwood takes way too long to introduce it, it is quite the surprise when it eventually arrives. 

Though the dramatic arc needs adjusting, the female-led story has an excellent premise. It’s controversial, divisive and thought provoking. Though it comes across as pro-millennial, Kirkwood gives equal time to both side of the argument she presents. She narrowly avoids this becoming a propaganda piece by providing the opportunity for both perspectives to get pissed off at the other and not feel too oppressed – though a baby boomer might feel quite different.

Lighting designer Peter Mumford’s daylight streams through the windows of Miriam Buether’s country cottage kitchen. As time passes, glorious afternoon sunshine wanes to an orange sunset, then blue dusk. The transition is imperceptible, but wholly mirrors the plot’s trajectory – it’s a powerful, subtle influence on mood and tone, and a great use of colour.

Annis, Findlay and Cook are as excellent as expected, and even though the script has some issues, it also packs a huge impact. The cultural divide is presented with balance and whilst it won’t necessarily get the two sides to come to an agreement, maybe there will be some empathy fostered in the largely older, middle/upper-middle class core audience. Even if it doesn’t, Kirkwood’s gift for dialogue and topical theatre shines through in this new play with ideas that will linger long after its run.

The Children runs through 14 January.

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