The third play of English playwright Lucy Kirkwood, Mosquitoes, has been performed by Sydney Theatre Company in the past three seasons.
Chimerica remains her greatest achievement and last year’s The Children won several awards, including three Helpmanns (for Best Play, Best Direction and Best Female Actor).
Mosquitoes has a little more humour shown through it compared to The Children and again focuses on science and the progress that society has enjoyed as a result. However, there remains a question of whether it has all been positive for mankind. Kirkwood’s dialogue is quick and spontaneous – with overlapping lines and thoughts which makes it very contemporary.
Kirkwood wrote the play as a commission from the Manhattan Theatre Club to write a work specifically about science in some way. Starting from the premise that “most of us live lives informed by scientific enquiry at every levee, and yet most of us are illiterate, scientifically speaking; and worse – we are often convinced we are literate when we are not.” Kirkwood said, the focus of the play was how does “someone extraordinarily clever like Alice share a world with someone rather stupid like Jenny (and myself)”.
The play centres around the sisters’ scientific genius Alice (Jacqueline McKenzie), who lives in Geneva where she works with a world-class team of physicists searching for the Higgs boson*, and her anti-vaxxer sister Jenny (Mandy McElhinney), who sells medical insurance for women over the phone from her Luton home. It’s an interesting concept and one which works.
The sisters’ mother Karen, is a former scientist, who never received the recognition she deserved because science had always been a male domain and her husband had subsumed her work as his own.
Beginning in Luton, south of England, Alice has been summoned by Jenny who has been in a panic about her about-to-be-born baby. She is very pregnant and informs Alice she hasn’t felt the baby kick for a while, hasn’t had the usual amnio tests as she has been worried about side-effects she had read on the internet. Alice is frustrated with her sister, and with all those others, who think that because information is available on the internet that they are all able to understand it.
The next time we see them, Jenny has lost her child through not vaccinating her. With much of the tension arising from blame unsaid, the sisters have a bond clearly existing outside the other’s natural orbit.
The cast was great. McElhinney played the annoying sister to perfection, and McKenzie was strong as the scientific sister who had not much clue or focus on what was immediately going on in her real world.
Her son Luke, played by Charles Wu (who was previously seen in Chimerica), was the teenage geek just wanting to fit in and be liked by the girl he fancied. Nikita Waldron in her STC debut was his would-be girlfriend Natalie. There’s a great scene where they are communicating through texts, and the pauses, distractions and the tension all that causes was excellently conveyed. This is the next generation, affected by science in its own way – and to what good end? So that teenagers can bully each other in new yet equally painful ways.
Natalie is more adept in the world, and plays it to her advantage. Luke is struggling. First to make his mum listen and understand him, and then to fit into the wider universe. His future is not unexpected. It is while things move quickly, aided by incredible advances in science, but at the end of the day there is familial ties, and familial pathways and in the three generations that are depicted in this play, this stays strong.
Annie Byron, as Karen, has one of the strongest roles. As a woman, who has had to play according to the rules of her time, she is now at a time of life where nothing is sacred. She tells her daughters what she thinks of them, and what she wants for her future. She is not going to be tied to societal pressures any longer. She has put up with a lack of recognition, but she’s not going to continue that way. She has found a voice and will use it whenever she can.
There are several monologues through the play, which don’t add a great deal. Kirkwood should have faith in the action of her plays and not feel the need to add explanation. People will always add or take away what they think is meant, and her adding a side note will not help.
The staging is clean and a little sterile, as it should be. But there is a cleverly choreographed section at the end, which shows the motion of science and molecules.
*The Higgs boson is the particle associated with the Higgs field, an energy field that transmits mass to the things that travel through it.
Feature image via Daily Review.