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A Number review at Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh – ‘a driving, punchy production’

Peter Forbes and Brian-Ferguson in A Number, directed by Zinnie Harris, at Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh. Photo: Aly Wight
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Zinnie Harris’ revival of Caryl Churchill’s A Number is the perfect show to present in partnership with the Edinburgh International Science Festival.

Cloning and its ethics lie at the heart of Churchill’s truculent two-hander. Thirty-five year-old Bernard discovers he is not an only child, but one of a number of clones. But Harris reveals that there is much more going on in a driving, punchy production, with Peter Forbes and Brian Ferguson both on glowing form as father and ‘son’.

Fred Meller’s box set, placed high on the stage and surrounded in darkness, hints at a succession of similar boxes behind it. This feeling is enhanced by Ben Ormerod’s lighting, bursting in from the rooms beyond. A subtle, double helix-patterned wallpaper emphasises the play’s themes.

Staged as a series of dialogues between Forbes’ underhand slippery Salter, and three of the clones, all played by Ferguson, the reasons for the cloning of original son, Bernard, are unpicked.

Ferguson’s performance is one of complexity. He creates three characters who are similar enough to carry the weight of a debate about nature and nurture, but distinct enough to differentiate them clearly. Forbes’ Salter is more gently developed.

While the big philosophical questions of existence – and what makes us human and unique – are all laid out with force, questions of fatherhood emerge to the fore in this fascinating staging.

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A dark and driving production of Caryl Churchill’s intricate, intelligent play