I first saw A Number (another Caryl Churchill play in an unofficial London 2019-20 season) in 2006, when father and son performances from Timothy and Samuel West gave the tale of cloning/copying an additional power.
A shocking piece back then, I feel we have all become more cynical now and the idea of IVF and genetic cloning isn’t quite so proposterous. Where this Caryl Churchill play still succeeds is in the moral and political questions around the pursuit of perfection and profit.
Roger Allam is reliably excellent as the father who saw his best chance of being a good parent was in repeating the exercise, replacing Bernard 1 when he became too problematic to manage. It’s a tragic tale of neglect which can only end badly.
Bernard 2 is placid but shocked by the news that he has “a number” of copies of him out in the world. Bernard 1 is angry, violent and resentful at being ignored, then sidelined and forgotten. Colin Morgan plays both men (and a further clone, quiet and family-oriented) with skill and clear delineation.
Polly Findlay (director), Lizzie Clachan (designer of some stunning sets, quickly changed), Peter Mumford (lighting) and Carolyn Downing (sound) have created a world where we watch Allam’s character crumple and crack as the play – running just over an hour – progresses.
This is a fable of families which has sharp writing and a sense of futility throughout, but if you’re familiar with the play the element of surprise has gone. Interesting to see it again after fourteen years, though.
A Number closes at the Bridge Theatre on Saturday. Images by Johan Persson.
LouReviews purchased a discounted ticket to see A Number.