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The Children review at Theatre by the Lake, Keswick – ‘a deftly directed production’

Patrick Driver and Rachel Laurence in The Children at Theatre by the Lake. Photo: Robert Day.

Lucy Kirkwood’s 2016 play The Children is set in the aftermath of an accident at a British nuclear power station. Married couple Robin and Hazel (Patrick Driver and Maggie O’Brien) both used to work at the plant but are now retired. They are visited by an old friend, Rose (Rachel Laurence), who turns out to have a proposition for them.

It’s a play in which personal intimacies and social duty collide over the kitchen table, and the responsibilities of the old for future generations are probed and articulated.

Stefan Escreet’s production is the second studio show in Theatre by the Lake’s summer rep season, and the immersive nature of the space serves the play well. Designer Elizabeth Wright works with the studio’s usual traverse set-up to create a country-cottage chic kitchen, complete with whitewashed stone walls.

Though some of the conflict between characters feels a bit too loudly telegraphed, for the most part Escreet trusts the audience to spot what is going on. The play’s humour is given room to breathe. The relationships accumulate significance in the under two hours of real time the performance takes, and there are plenty of nicely nuanced nonverbal moments where what is being spoken takes a back seat.

Indeed understanding that the play is not all talk is the key to the production’s success. This is especially true of the final 10 minutes, which are driven by Mark Melville’s eerily powerful sound design coming to the fore, and a haunting final image, atmospherically lit by Robbie Butler.

The cast of three does a fine job. Driver’s ex-philanderer Robin keeps his emotional cards close to his chest, but not so close we can’t see how things will pan out. O’Brien’s Hazel is a study in defensively brisk efficiency, and she plays nicely off Rachel Laurence’s more enigmatic Rose.

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Deftly directed production that makes the most of the intimate studio space