A RADIATING RESPONSIBILITY
Since I watched Sizewell A going up as a child, live close to Sizewell B and dwell amid a forest of local posters furiously condemning Sizewell C, there is a particular frisson in seeing this play – which I missed a few years back at the Royal Court – turning up just 45 miles inland from us. It’s a future Suffolk seaside world, where a couple live in a wooden holiday-cabin shack just outside the “exclusion zone” created by a disastrous meltdown of such a site a few years earlier.
Gillian Bevan evokes Hazel, health-consciously fit, mumsy and yogafied but visibly uncomfortable with something in her life. Michael Higgs is a jokey, rather edgy Robin who near the end movingly reveals a deeply suffering heart. Both are retired nuclear scientists who worked on the station, had to leave their house and smallholding as it was too close, and now exist in a world of annoying power blackouts and macerating toilets. It’s not a post-apocalyptic drama: there’s a local Co-op handy and the annoying bit is having to bribe the taxi driver to go anywhere near the edge of the Zone. Their four adult children are elsewhere, one needily angry, phoning with her troubles.
Into their dullish household from America erupts an uninvited former colleague, Rose: Imogen Stubbs gives a complex, fascinating performance: lively and sexy, reminiscent, sometimes irritating and sometimes touching, finally unmasking a more serious reality. She asks how it has been during and since the disaster, and Hazel gives us terrifying glimpses of this: the boiling sea, the “filthy glitter” of fallout , the flooded house full of dirty silt, the sudden relief of deciding they didn’t have to clear that up but could just decamp for the borrowed cottage. This turns out to be a nice metaphor for the final decisions all have to make.
Their relationship is exposed slowly when Robin, flippant and keen to uncork the parsnip wine, betrays that he and Rose have torrid history .Some have felt, in its earlier productions, that the trio’s build-up is too slow, but this cast held the small theatre visibly gripped by rising tension and moments of sudden warmth, left over from their old collegiate staffroom days. But when it becomes clear why Rose came, it’s riveting. No spoilers, but it’s inspired by Mr Yamada’s Skilled Veteran Corps, after Fukushima in 2011. Because radiation cancers are gradual, the 72-year-old engineer said it was the job of the old – not the young who deserve their lives – to do a full cold shutdown and clearing up on-site. He had 250 retired volunteers over sixty, but was thwarted. There is a proper and topically startling power in this idea of the old needing to clear up the mess their generation made: Lucy Kirkwood deploys it like a whip.
Her famous Chimerica was a big complex play about international relations , stunning in its grip of modern moral confusions. Her shorter NSFW was a tight, viciously amusing generation clash. This combines something of both qualities, with a particularly female grip on uneasy relationships and professional responsibilities. It also contains a striking line for today “We don’t have a RIGHT to electricity, you know”. I liked Owen Calvert-Lyons’ production a lot, and hope it moves on from Bury.
box office theatreroyal.org to 25 March