The setup for The Children is unlike anything you’ve probably considered before, though everything appears at first glance to be perfectly normal and average. Inside of a far-off cottage home, two old friends are brought back together to reminisce and reconnect. Only in this example, the threat of cancer and death, as a result of nuclear catastrophe, lurks behind.
Hazel, played by Deborah Findlay, and Robin, played by Ron Cook, are a retired couple who have left the days of nuclear work for a more calm and pleasant final stage of their lives. But the serene life of possibility is upended when Rose (Francesca Annis) shows up and brings back all of the disaster from the past. It comes in all forms, professional and personal. Rose is like a hurricane that sweeps up both Hazel and Robin. What’s remarkable about this natural disaster, though, is how it paces itself, beginning slow with small talk that lulls you so much you may begin to wonder in the first half of the play where this is all going. However, when it strikes shore, it hits big.
Findlay really shines in her role, remaining understated when it calls for it and hostile when it matters. You get the sense that her character knows more than she lets on, and she confirms only some of those suspicions. Her indecision over whether to go back into the fire, with certain destruction ahead, is at the heart of the play. She feels she has plenty to live for, and she’s been undermined seemingly her whole life by others around her messing with her success. Alas, she hasn’t given up on people, though, because that’s not Hazel’s way. She perseveres.
Director James MacDonald does an outstanding job of displaying the everyday mundanities at first while still making clear through stage direction that Hazel and Rose have a turbulent past. When Hazel finally erupts, and reveals her real feelings for Rose, you are relieved. The undertones were there through the body language and behavior, if not the text itself. There’s a rich calm before the storm. However, that structure and strategy might not click with every theatergoer. It takes perhaps too long to get to the meat of the play, and by then people might have tuned out.