‘A Number’ by Caryl Churchill- A snapshot of the future?

So I feel I have been neglecting the ‘Theatre’ part of my tagline a little here. There has been ‘Literature’ a-plenty, a fair amount of ‘Language’ but I have been skimping on the ‘Theatre’. So what better way is there to remedy this than talking about a play that I am actually going to be acting in?

A good justification? Thank you, this upcoming play is dominating my mind at the moment and so I would find it very hard to write about anything else as it is!

The play is called ‘A Number’ and it is set in a world in the near-future where human cloning has become a commercial reality. It was written by Caryl Churchill in 2002 and it explores the idea of personal identity and the age-old debate of nature vs nurture.

Something resembling a synopsis:

The play follows Salter (the character that I play) who is in his early sixties when his son B2 tells him that he has found out about the cloning experiment that resulted in his birth. It transpires that B2 is a clone of a first son (B1) that Salter had and not only was there one copy made but instead a number of copies were made without Salter knowing.

B2 takes it relatively well to start with, even suggesting meeting up with the other copies but when short-tempered B1 finds out that there are copies of him that his father made, he is not a happy bunny. (That last is an understatement.)

The decisions Salter made in the past come back to haunt him as tragedy ensues leading to tense encounters, sudden deaths and fresh starts, all because of that all-important question: “If that’s me over there, then who am I?”

^A genuine rehearsal*

The play is in all senses of the word: a tragedy. The fact that Salter clones his son out of desperation and guilt is tragic, the fact that he feels he has to lie to his sons about what happened is tragic and the way that in the end, despite all of the copies existing,he is still alienated from them; this is also tragic. There are also a variety of emotions that Salter goes through on stage. The battle between hubris and despair is apparent at times when he says: “Nobody regrets more than me the completely unforeseen… but I could have had a different one  but I wanted you again”

It is also very focused on the theme of human identity. It constantly questions whether two genetically identical people are really the same or not. The fact that B1 and B2 have very different character traits and reactions to the shocking news would suggest that they are indeed not the same but then the fact remains that from the outside they are indistinguishable from each other.

The production of the play is dictated to be simple. Churchill does not include any stage directions in the script, nor does she give an indication as to where the events of the play take place. At any one time there is only two characters on stage which in no way seems contrived but rather adds to the effect of simplicity.
The actual words are thus emphasised as there is little else to distract the audience. In many ways, ‘A Number’ would be suited to being a radio play as the language used in the dialogue is what is important. The lines appear disjointed in many places and confused, evidencing the emotional strain the characters are going through and in the dialogues between characters, this disjointedness leads to fast paced, tense exchanges.

A Number is unlike any production I have been in previously. Its subtle style contrasts the hard-hitting subject matter of the play effectively, resulting in a meaningful story with relatable characters. With this, it is the case where less is certainly more. The story is told through the characters alone without any need of effects or extraordinary staging.

I certainly hope that the audience appreciates the play for what it is, as much as I have come to appreciate it from a performer’s point of view. And I would say it is definitely worth a read if you are interested in the debate on the philosophy or ethics behind the play.
I’ll report back on how it went next week, it starts on Thursday!

Religious author Oswald Chambers once said: “Books are the blessed chloroform of the mind”. He sadly died after refusing treatment for his painful appendicitis condition.

His book became famous though, ‘My Utmost for His Highest’ so Oswald that ends wold!
*Ok, it’s not me. It is from: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Anefo_911-7229_Repetities.jpg and the author is Nationaal Archief, Den Haag, Rijksfotoarchief: Fotocollectie Algemeen Nederlands Fotopersbureau (ANEFO), 1945-1989 – negatiefstroken zwart/wit, nummer toegang, bestanddeelnummer 911-7229


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