The Higgs Boson, particle physics, family dynamics, online bullying and harassment, vaccines, loss of a child, a missing parent- Lucy Kirkwood’s complex, huge play teems with ideas- possibly one too many. It’s a challenge for any theatre company, and how can such an ambitious play be performed in the intimate Headgate space? Well, when it’s directed by one of the best local directors, Wendy Smith, when the theatre’s design and technical team have accepted the challenge and triumphed, and when a top-notch cast takes to the stage, the result is one of the most innovative, energetic and thoughtful productions you’ll see this year.
At the centre is the complicated relationship between two sisters, chaotic Jenny, pregnant at the play’s beginning, paranoid, deemed stupid by her family, and rational Alice, who works as a scientist at CERN. When Jenny refuses to give her child the MMR vaccine, her daughter dies of measles, and she flies to Switzerland to be with her sister. The metaphor for high energy collisions is set, and worlds collide as they search for true meaning. When Alice’s son goes missing following terrible bullying at school, Jenny slowly becomes the rational one as Alice’s world falls apart. Sadie Orlando is outstanding as Jenny, navigating the emotional roller coaster with skill and intuition, matched by Eleanor Kent’s brilliant performance as Alice, a rational scientist who believes in prayer, a woman who loses control of her emotions. Much of those centres around her son Luke, another excellent performance by Max Riches, who provokes so much sympathy even when he’s being a horrible teenager. Sara Green is her usual wonderful self as the girl’s mother Karen, and Charlotte Still plays the mysterious scientific narrator Boson, who could be the Higgs particle itself, commenting on the action.
The set design by Bob Neville uses every inch of performance space, plus the walls, and the lighting and sound are very evocative and atmospheric. I feel the play is over written, deviates off the central path a lot, but the biggest compliment I can give is that the time flew by watching this talented company but everything into the telling of this original production, even the lanyards are genuinely from CERN!