Oonagh Murphy, director of The Gate Theatre's forthcoming Irish premiere of Lucy Kirkwood's play The Children, writes for Culture about the production, the process and the human condition...
The Children is one of those pieces of writing that manages to tell multiple stories at once. It operates on several levels to address themes that are both personal and public, both private and public.
On the micro level, it is a psychologically-dense drama about how the choices we make shape the stories of our lives and those we spend them with. It’s about romantic, familial and platonic relationships, and how they shift and change as we grow in our understanding of ourselves.
The play continuously shifts, and leaves us asking questions. It allows us to feel disorientated or confused, before gifting us glimpses of understanding, only to ultimately leave us asking more questions again.
But then it’s also about our the choices we make as a society. The characters in the play are of the Baby Boomer generation, but you could also imagine it’s about my generation (Gen Y or Millennials) when we are in our 60s. It’s about generational attitudes. It interrogates the legacy we leave and the responsibility we have to the next generation. The drama delicately, playfully and darkly suggests the same drives and urges that lead us to hurt our loved ones, might be the same drives that have led to global issues like environmental degradation.
It asks: ‘Who is going to take responsibility for the mess that has been made?’ - a question Irish audiences will no doubt connect to viscerally.
I am being purposefully ambiguous about the plot of The Children, because I don’t want to ruin the experience for you by even giving you one detail too many. We live in an age of spoon-fed entertainment, where trailers show you the entire dramatic arc of a film, where streamable television makes cliff-hanger moments at the end of episodes redundant, and where the key ideas of books are circulated in summarised form on social media. This may be the age of the story, but we’re slowly eroding two of the basic tenets of storytelling — suspense and ambiguity. We know the ending before we’ve bought the ticket.
That’s what theatre can do like no other form — in its liveness, it helps us ask questions about who we are, that we don’t already have an answer for.
Lucy Kirkwood, writer of The Children, has created 90 minutes of drama that resists this impasse. The play continuously shifts, and leaves us asking questions. It allows us to feel disorientated or confused, before gifting us glimpses of understanding, only to ultimately leave us asking more questions again. It’s an ‘in real-time’ experience of the process of coming to consciousness, and the understanding that we can only ever know so much of this experience that we call life. In a world of polarised opinion and fake news, we need art that does just this.
Of course, that’s just my take as the director. You’ll probably see different things, feel different emotions, think different thoughts. And that’s okay. One of the big ideas I’ve carried through our rehearsals and imbued in our work, is that the subjectivity of our experience of these stories is worth its own value. That is to say that each actor will understand a line or a moment slightly differently, and that’s okay. When you’re working with actors as brilliant as Ger Ryan, Seán McGinley and Marie Mullen, there is no concern about craft or rigour. They’ve got that covered.
The work is about allowing them to be truthful, to find the detail of their character moment to moment, so as to believe it. When we find ourselves disagreeing about what a particular moment means, I resist the desire to control and say, ‘It is this, and only this’. Instead, I welcome the dissonance, that the two actors are playing from different sets of intention, because that’s where the drama, that's where the tension lives. They will never play it exactly the same twice. We’re telling multiple stories at once. They will never play it exactly the same twice.
Which feels like a perfect way to think about the human condition. And that’s what theatre can do like no other form — in its liveness, it helps us ask questions about who we are, that we don’t already have an answer for.
The Irish premiere production of The Children by Lucy Kirkwood runs at Gate Theatre Dublin from Thursday 28 February until Saturday 23 March, 2019 - find out more here.