Caryl Churchill tests the boundaries of playing God in a world obsessed with modification and experimentation. A father’s battle to keep a memory alive turns into a life-changing mistake causing his sons to commit both murder and suicide.
I was pleasantly surprised by the subtle transformation of the Lakeside Studio; a raised platform and powerful visuals of underground imagery refreshed the space. The audience enter to the familiar sounds of the tube, contrasted by a homely lounge and the recognizable warning to ‘mind the gap’ marked out on the living room floor. Directors Jack Parker and Finn Todd cleverly allow the theme of the underground, a cold and anonymous place in which we are all unknown, to hover over the family home throughout the entirety of the play.
Tom Hunter plays a fraught and desperate Salter, a father drowning his guilt in rum, as he struggles to come to terms with the mess his past choices have caused. We get the impression that he is a selfish, broken man left shattered by the death of his wife. After pushing his first son away, Salter clones his son, giving himself a fresh start and a chance to be a better father. When the cloned son finds out he is not the first, their relationship spirals downward as Salter’s web of lies unravels. In an attempt to gain control and grasp at positives he encourages his sons, played by the ever-transforming Samuel Miller, to sue the doctors who have continued cloning Salter’s DNA. The truth is that there are many more of Salter’s ‘sons’ out there. Miller’s Bernard is confused yet calm, unlike his anger led clone. Hate for their father boils as they learn more of the truth and begin to see who their progenitor really is.
There are moments of confusion and a blurring between each of the sons who are all played by Miller. Minor differences between the three sons the audience meet are sometimes too subtle, which at times can make the story unclear. Although this distortion adds to the chaos Salter has created, it also reads as a lack of character definition by Miller. There are no faults in the writing and at times actors were catching up with Churchill’s fast paced dialogue, occasionally causing tempo to drop between the two. Churchill’s writing is superb as ever, the writing is flavoursome and gives both Miller (in all his characters) and Hunter a lot to work with.
The father appears unable to come to terms with his Frankenstein-like qualities. Unable to admit to the mess he has made, Salter can’t help but contact one of Bernard’s many clones, holding out hope that he will fill the hole that has been left in his life. Playing with fire has left Salter burned, alone and to blame. Miller finishes with a strong performance as Michael, who seems undisturbed when he finds out he is clone, as he attempts to please a broken Salter.
Loss is a part of life we must accept, and nobody defines who we are but ourselves. Themes of identity, integrity and power, forces us to question if this underground world is where we may find ourselves in the future. The Lakeside Theatre’s production leaves us to make the decision for ourselves.
A Number played at the Lakeside Theatre until 10 February 2016. For more information, see www.lakesidetheatre.org.uk