By Kathryn Cloonan, Staff Writer, May 2020
Have you ever wondered who is responsible for cleaning up the world — those who caused the mess, or those who have to deal with it? Playwright Lucy Kirkwood’s “The Children” addresses this existential question in full. The play is a philosophical piece that makes the audience think about the world they live in and the consequences their actions might have on climate change and other future disasters.
The production features the story of two retired nuclear scientists and the surprise visit they receive from a former colleague. It made its opening debut at the Royal Court Theatre in London, where the production sold out. Then, it traveled to the United States to premiere on Broadway in 2017.
While the central focus of the play is the issue of a nuclear power station and who will work to fix the problems it caused, it also features a unique dynamic between three sixty-year-old scientists and their secrets. “The Children” brings older characters into the spotlight as they reflect on the damage that their past actions caused and whether they are willing to try to fix it. Kirkwood’s decision to have the characters focus on issues of accountability, guilt, parenthood, and marriage makes the post-nuclear world seem all the more real and present-day rather than a distant dystopian future.
The play additionally features a concept that the majority of the world today is familiar with: self-isolation after a disaster. Two of the main characters, Hazel and Robin, retired and moved to escape the danger of being near the nuclear plant. Living in fear of radiation pollution, the couple rarely leaves their house, and they are reminded every day of the disaster they were partly responsible for.
The characters’ electricity is rationed and the only food available is salad because of the deaths of animals and the poor quality of meat. References to an earthquake and tsunami that came prior to the nuclear issues also make frequent appearances in the play. “The Children” portrays the devastating effects of climate change that we are currently worrying about.
Through a dramatic build-up and chaotic relationships that trigger various twists and turns, “The Children” presents a warning to all generations about the long-term impact that their actions will have. The humanity of Kirkwood’s characters and the struggles they have to come to terms with in their new reality illustrate a very real-world story that does not appear so distant.
As we live in an era of a global pandemic and the impending consequences of climate change, “The Children” speaks directly to us. Soon enough, the world is going to have to come to a decision about whether to (and how to) deal with these future issues. These issues are going to affect everyone and, regardless of fault, they will become everyone’s responsibility. “The Children” has warned us about the inevitable future and how it may not be as distant as we believe. Therefore, it calls us to act now to prevent the drastic consequences of climate change by empowering each other and our governments. We need to work together to bring about a lasting change that could save us all from “The Children”’s warnings.