A Number review at the Other Room, Cardiff – ‘deftly directed and performed’
Caryl Churchill’s A Number is, among many things, an exploration of whether love can be truly unconditional.
Bernard discovers he is actually Bernard 2, one of about 20 scientifically engineered clones. When Bernard 1 surfaces, the two ‘brothers’ seek answers from Salter, the man who fathered them.
Salter has attempted to make up for being a poor parent by rebuilding the relationship in a petri dish. But he can’t engineer the feelings he wants from his children. As Salter grows more helpless, Brendan Charleson’s performance grows more physical. Alongside him, Stevie Raine demonstrates his versatility, playing three different versions of the same man, his persona switching along with subtle changes in his costume.
Ed Madden’s subtle production uses space intelligently. He keeps Charleson and Raine far apart on Carl Davies’ long and narrow set, forcing audience members to make choices as to who they watch. The strength of Churchill’s play similarly lies in the spaces between her words. Sound designer Tic Ashfield fills these broken moments with a portentous score. Joe Fletcher’s lighting design feels more generic in comparison.
It is ultimately the actors, and the chemistry between them, that makes the biggest impression. The first real comic exchanges between the two come at the very end, suggesting the idea of things starting over. It’s an unsettling and suitably ambiguous finale.