Alice (Olivia Williams) and Jenny (Olivia Coleman) live completely contrasting lives, geographically and intellectually. Alice lives in Geneva, is a mother and a scientist working on the development of the large hadron collider at CERN. Jenny lives in Luton, nervously believes what she reads on Google and is desperate for a child. The collision and relativity of the tragedy in both their lives forms what may be seen as Mosquitoes’ surprisingly idiosyncratic narrative; however it is through this peculiarity that the play is able to explore a large cross section of themes.
A battle of opposites, Mosquitoes sets scientific discovery against human intuition, intellectual power against weakness and creation against destruction. It cleverly explores these antitheses on both macrocosmic and microcosmic levels, pitting scientific theories about the end of the universe against the tragic occurrences in the characters’ lives that – metaphorically – equate to the end of their universes.
Aside from the intricate nature of the play itself, the execution of the production is also exemplary. The set is a movable masterpiece. There’s a trap door centre stage that allows for swift scene transitions. A large, circular, mirrored metal frame is suspended above the stage, and is – at various points – lowered and rotated to create a visual emulation of the large hadron collider. Cosmic graphics of stars and planets are projected across the stage to support academic explanations, and when combined with overwhelming sound design, smoke and lighting effects, create an engaging audio visual experience. This combined with the commendable performances of the entire cast renders Mosquitoes as an extremely high quality production. Unsurprising, Olivia Coleman delivers a stand out performance in the role of Jenny. The authenticity of her performance is palpable as she expertly shifts between inciting humour and empathy from the audience. Despite her character’s poor decision making and destructive qualities, Coleman portrays her with an intense likeability. She accesses a wry wit that renders her the most relatable character on stage, and forces us to reconsider the conventional celebration of academic achievement (embodied by her sister, Alice) in favour of more important human qualities.
Mosquitoes preoccupation with scientific theory and CERN may seem abstract and removed from our everyday lives on paper, however one may go as far as to say that the whole point of the play is to dispel these preconceptions. The disconnect between the sisters, and Alice’s pompous patronisation of Jenny due to her perceived intellectual superiority highlights an under-discussed problem with the world today. Research is rendered useless if it cannot be communicated sufficiently, and without the conception of scientists condescendingly preaching from their ivory laboratories removed from society on a geographical and metaphorical level. Science offers us great capacity for the improvement of human life, but often treats the humans they are trying to help with contempt. Mosquitoes highlights how this can lead to tragic consequences, and that a greater interrelation between investigative research and the plights of ordinary people can foster harmony and benefits for all.
Mosquitoes is running at the National Theatre until September 28.
Photo: Brinkhoff Mogenberg