By Lucy Kirkwood
National Theatre Dorfman, London SE1
Reviewed by Jarlath O'Connell
Lucy Kirkwood who wowed us with Chimerica has done it again. Here she counterpoints two wildly contrasting sisters with the ideas thrown up by the particle collisions in the Hadron Collider at CERN. But this is anything but a dry science lesson. Rufus Norris’ crisp direction and a stunning design team (set, lights, sound, video all astonish) transform this intelligent and witty script into theatrical gold. Its ambition is bracing, grappling with issue like: technology’s effect on teens; the current loss of faith in science; to where scientists might have gone astray, but which essentially is about two sisters trying to get on.
Alice (Olivia Williams) the physicist at CERN in Geneva, juggles her career with raising a troubled, computer hacker, teen Luke (Joseph Quinn). She is visited by her sister Jenny (Olivia Colman) who sells medical insurance, looks after the sisters’ aged mum (an affecting Amanda Boxer) and has lost a baby after heeding the scares about the MMR vaccine. Jenny is from Luton but she might as well be from another planet.
Kirkwood challenges our assumptions about such contrasting women, making us ponder both their merits. Was Jenny’s action a retaliation for years of being patronised and while Alice may be the clever core of this family unit, it is only Jenny who can connect with Luke, to the extent of even taking the hit for him when he gets into trouble.
It is great to see Williams given a role to match her talents and as for Colman, she lights up every scene. There is no other actor today with her ability to make ordinariness sing. It’s an acting masterclass.