In a society where our knowledge of medical science is ever expanding, the issue of our identity and what makes us who we are has been continuously brought into question through different mediums of art. York Theatre Royal’s most recent production, ‘A Number,’ does just that, asking us to consider what defines us as ‘real’ and the extent to which we are unique in this thought provoking piece. Writer Caryl Churchill presents a gritty perspective on the possible consequences of advances in the science of cloning, and follows the story of a father and his three sons – two of which are clones of the first.
In this two man show, the characterisation of each of the three sons is crucial to the plotline. Niall Costigan (Bernard 1, Bernard 2 and Michael Black – The three sons) smoothly executes the shift between each of his three very different roles, clearly distinguishing between each character. Certain moments of his character’s deterioration are admirably performed making it difficult to look away. The intimacy of both actors on the small stage helps to draw the audience into the play as more of the initially fragmented plot is revealed.
Another pleasing aspect of this piece is the casting of real life father and son, Niall and George Costigan. The natural link between the two actors, through their similar facial expressions, hand gestures and sound of their voices, exemplifies the relationship between the father and each of his three ‘sons,’ which highlights the issue of genetics and presents the question of human individuality.
Unfortunately, in the performance I watched, there were a few parts of the play which felt under rehearsed, and sections of speech were lost by the actors talking over one another in their agitation. It is hard to tell whether this was intentional or a simple case of nerves, but it sometimes felt a little awkward as the actors stumbled over each other. There were also moments throughout the performance where I felt as though the actors slipped out of character, or even underreacted to some of the action. Although the majority of the characterisation was very well performed, some sections could use some re-direction.
The staging was minimalistic and simple, which worked wonderfully. The play is performed in the studio and the audience sit around the edges of the small staging, creating a feeling of intimacy, as though you are looking in and become involved with this private, family issue. A black sofa is placed in the centre of a stark white stage and the full, bright lighting gives the impression of somewhere clinical, like a laboratory where the medical science takes place. In this sense, the entire play seems like a creation made in this medical ‘lab,’ an interesting and clever choice of the production team.
Overall, I was impressed with Juliet Forster’s version of this play. It resurfaces issues of advancing medical technology, which seem to have been ignored in recent years. However, this play also directly draws on the strained relationship between father and son, an issue which is still extremely relevant. These themes are explored in a way which is innovative, captivating and brilliantly portrayed in this performance.