Caryl Churchill’s pithy version of the nature versus nurture debate acquires a further dimension when played by a real-life father and son. The Wests first appeared in this 2002 play at Sheffield four years ago when Samuel was artistic director of the theatres there. In these circumstances, director Jonathan Munby finds a resonance between the challenges of parenting and the play’s philosophical thrust.
Salter has had one son in the usual manner, but there are now many – a number – produced by cloning. A topic robustly tackled by Churchill is how a person cheated of their own identity may feel like no more than a number.
Anxious Bernard has just discovered that he is not unique, while the natural son, also Bernard, abandoned as a child, is murderously aggressive. Only the third clone, Michael Black, a teacher with a family, is content and does not feel threatened by the discovery of his origins. Unlike the Bernards – one badly treated, the other loved but let-down he has had no previous contact with shifty Salter.
Set on designer Paul Wills’ simple square stage, with the audience on four sides, under a ceiling of what appear to be test-tubes, A Number depends for its impact almost entirely on the acting. The Wests’ performances are meticulous, with Samuel subtly distinguishing the three younger men.
Churchill, brilliant as ever at matching form to content, is perhaps too absolute in favouring the power of nurture, but the subject is as live now as it was in 2002. At any rate, genes seem to play a part in the acting talent of the Wests.
Menier Chocolate Factory, London, September 29-November 5
- Caryl Churchill
- Jonathan Munby
- David Babani
- Cast includes
- Samuel West, Timothy West
- Running time