BWW REVIEW: As Scientists Prepared To Make Particle Colliding History One Family Faces The Challenge Of Disparate Personalities Being Forced Together in MOSQUITOES
Friday 12 April 2019, 8pm, Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House
Drawing parallels with particle physics, Lucy Kirkwood's latest play MOSQUITOES considers human behavior and family dynamics. Director Jessica Arthur brings this science centered story to the Australian stage with a clean simplicity that puts the focus on the people rather than the places to echo real world family dynamics.
Following on from Kirkwood's earlier works that reference historic moments (the Tiananmen Square protests in CHIMERICA) and science (nuclear science in THE CHILDREN), the MOSQUITOES is predominantly set as CERN's Large Hadron Collider in Geneva is about to be switched on for the first time on the 10th of September 2008. Scientist and single mother Alice (Jacqueline McKenzie) is part of the team behind the world's largest and most powerful particle collider. Her younger sister Jenny (Mandy McElhinney) is the opposite of her in what seems to be every way possible whilst their mother Karen (Annie Byron) was once great scientist but is now suffering the ravages of age with dementia setting in. Son Luke (Charles Wu) has inherited his mother's and his mysterious absent father's (Jason Chong) brains but also, like his mother, suffers in the social skills segment of life. The four are forced together following a tragedy and in a similar way that the Large Hadron Collider seeks to study the interaction of objects coming together, MOSQUITOES is a study of a dysfunctional family reuniting.
Designer Elizabeth Gadsby draws on the science of having very small particles being sent through a very large machine in her design of a predominantly bare space with aperture like broad white frame making way for smaller frames narrowing to the rear of the stage. Aside from the trading out of simple living room sofas and a bar table, done with a fluid choreography on and off the large revolve, the most significant set piece is the simplistic expression of the CERN control center in the form of a wall of monitors. Costuming is simple in its contemporary expression whilst also expressing the difference between the staid science minds of Alice and Luke and the freer Jenny and popular Natalie (Nikita Waldron), Luke's school crush. Nick Schlieper's lighting allows the space to disappear into the depth of the stage, center on the domestic scenes and provide broader open spaces for public places.
Whilst science is the backdrop, it really is a relatively insignificant element of the work as the story could be about any family of significantly different members. At face value Kirkwood keeps the options as simple either/or situations, smart/stupid, science/anti-science, right/wrong, but as the problems pile up, we see that right isn't always good, and bad isnt always wrong. A multitude of contemporary topics are addressed, from the Anti-Vaccination conspiracy theories that are causing a return of seemingly eradicated childhood disease, the question of whether career should come over family, how a person is defined as they get old, the ability to choose when we die, jealousy and sibling rivalry and media driven racism. The inclusion of highschooler Luke and erstwhile friend Natalie captures the challenges of adolescence including hormones, popularity, bullying, being heard and determining whether you really do want to fit in.
Jacqueline McKenzie captures Alice's incredibly smart but somewhat socially inept attitude that sees her unable to relate to her sister or her son as she relies on science and her career. Similarly, son Luke is equally socially awkward and Charles Wu presents the eagerness of the teen trying to make a connection with his crush with a striking realism which shifts to a equally honest expression of an upset adolescent dissatisfied with both his school life and his home life where he is never really listened to. Mandy McElhinney is brilliant as the "idiot" sister spinning out of control after her life takes a tragic turn after believing conspiracy theories published on the internet. She expresses Jenny's perpetual feeling of failure when compared to her smart sister, her jealousy that Alice has a perfect son and a successful career, and her anger that she is constantly talked down to by Alice and Karen, the mother who she has to look after. As the aging mother refusing to admit to suffering from dementia and incontinence, Annie Byron captures the feelings that older people tend to face when society starts to define them as old and infirm, forgetting the achievements that they made in earlier days.
Peppered with science but not dependent on the audience understanding it in any great depth, MOSQUITOES is a reminder that we should place a higher priority on family and people than careers. It also seeks to reinforce that we shouldn't judge people or pigeonhole them as even the smartest can make gross errors of judgement. Seeking compassion and care along with understanding that people are different and that just because someone may not be book smart does not mean that we should treat them with any less humanity, this is a contemporary human story, relatable regardless of your own family circumstances.
Photos: Daniel Boud