Review: The Children at Ilkley Playhouse

THERE are no children in ‘The Children’, but there are three adults doing their best to deal with the most complex of grown up problems, in the best interests of all our children. This is a great piece of theatre – nuanced and gripping with themes that touch on the very purpose of our existence. And it is played out brilliantly by Louise Button, Sarah Potter and Damien O’keeffe.

In the Wildman Theatre at Ilkley Playhouse this week, Yvette Huddleston has skilfully directed Lucy Kirkwood’s play which deals with the aftermath of a disaster at a nuclear power station. Robin and Hazel are retired physicists who have spent their careers in the plant and had retired near to it when the disaster destroyed their plans. Now living with what seem to be post-apocalyptic conditions, the couple battle to come to terms with what has happened to them – the struggles to find uncontaminated food to eat or water to drink, the difficulties in seeing their children – some of the themes seem really quite familiar….

Into this scene, a former colleague, Rose, has arrived. Louise Button plays Rose so that she is at once forthright and determined whilst maintaining a certain vulnerability – this part is multi layered and fascinating as the play progresses. Seemingly the first meeting for over thirty years, there is an obvious frisson of tension - at first between Rose and Hazel and then, when Robin enters, the atmosphere changes again – and quite dramatically. Sarah Potter’s Hazel is neurotic and manic, speech tumbling over itself and different opinions claimed simultaneously – her anxiety is palpable and we slowly recognise the reasons for all of it. There are unresolved issues between all three parties. The exact nature of these unravels as the play progresses and the flow of energy between the three of them changes and wrong foots you all the way through, never being sure which way the relationships are going to settle. Damien O’keeffe, as Robin, manages masterfully to be everything that both women need him to be whilst ultimately satisfying neither.

There are hints of serious problems with the eldest of Robin and Hazel’s children, Lauren ‘the Vampire’ child certainly alludes to trouble past and present. And Rose has had traumas of her own to deal with, single and childless and in recovery from illness. Now she presents Hazel and Robin with a life changing suggestion that is also the most challenging of moral dilemmas.

This piece resonates so strongly with what we have all experienced over the last year - those prepared willingly or unwillingly to put themselves on the front line, coming out of retirement at their own personal risk for the greater good and wondering what sacrifices they can make. And what a testament to selflessness and the human spirit. It is a strangely uplifting piece that will leave audiences pondering over the choices to be made and reflecting on what they might have done. A superb night of theatre. Don’t miss it! Tickets are available via the Playhouse website or by calling 01943 609539