Lee J. Campbell, Mauralea Austin and Martha Irving star in The Children, produced by Keep Good (Theatre) Company at the Bus Stop Theatre through Sunday. (Stoo Metz)
Three of Halifax’s top actors – Martha Irving, Mauralea Austin and Lee J. Campbell – dazzle in Keep Good (Theatre) Company’s high-quality production of Lucy Kirkwood’s unsettling play, The Children.
This 2016 British play is traditional in style and highly contemporary in subject matter. Its issues of social responsibility in the face of environmental collapse after years of living “the good life” are a hot topic for today’s seniors as teens and 20somethings are gripped by fear, sadness and activism.
The Children is set shortly after a nuclear meltdown has left parts of the U.K. inhabitable.
Two retired nuclear scientists who once worked at the plant forge on with daily life – yoga for her, feeding the cows for him – in a cottage by the sea. But one day an old friend forces her way into the kitchen and demands the couple assess their choices in life and consider a daunting new, moral direction.
The Children is a gripping drama full of tension, written like a mystery with tantalizing revelation-upon-revelation as Kirkwood exposes the complex dynamics in these relationships and the true nature of the characters’ lives.
Set in a remarkably-detailed cottage kitchen – where Hazel makes salad and gets glasses of water but never from the tap – the play races forward from the very first awkward conversation between the pedestrian Hazel and the more exotic, hard-edged Rose, who’s spent years away in America.
Martha Irving is terrific as Hazel, a long-married, orderly, confident woman who has designed an active, healthy retirement life for herself and her husband. Hazel has many colours, particularly as she erodes, and reverberates with realism and depth in Irving’s lively, highly-focussed portrayal.
Mauralea Austin is crisp, cagey and deliciously direct as the childless, sometimes malicious, professional who lobs this line at her salad-queen friend: “Personally I find salad deeply depressing.”
Lee J. Campbell is robust and angled as he carves out the many qualities of Hazel’s husband Robin: confident and charming, sarcastic and savage, loving and skanky.
These fully-realized, familiar characters live in Stephen Osler’s cluttered kitchen set with poetry in decayed, lopsided boards and painterly touches in splashes of red in a salt shaker, an upper-shelf canister and a kid’s tricycle.
Director Laura Vingoe-Cram chose this play because she wanted to direct a traditional drama and she brings it to life with a lot of tension, clarity and elegance.
The use of sound by designer Tori Morrison is lovely. It brings in the sea when Rose opens the door and frames the realistic drama in a poetic story of a cliff-side community that slid into the ocean though its church bells can still be heard.
The Children has a strong creative team with Vicky Williams, lighting designer;
Andrea Ritchie, costume designer; Véronique MacKenzie, choreographer, and Christine Oakey, stage manager.
The drama could lose about 15 minutes of script; it runs almost two hours without intermission BUT it’s gripping enough that time goes by very fast. I was not aware of the time.
The play at 8 p.m. has an opening act: tonight, 7 p.m., a screening of The Water Protector’s Journey with Q & A with filmmaker Eliza Knockwood; Thursday, 7 p.m., accessible yoga; Friday, Earth Aware Market opening; Saturday, dance class with Véronique MacKenzie; Sunday, 1 p.m., (play at 2 p.m.), brunch by Inner Light Kitchen. Full details of these events and of staggered pricing are at https://www.tickethalifax.com/events/93989144/the-children. For the yoga, dance class and brunch email email@example.com to reserve spot.