Review: Colin Morgan and Roger Allam, A Number, Bridge Theatre - everything counts in the 60-minute clone drama
You can tell an awful lot about Colin Morgan’s characters in A Number by the way they drink milk and eat biscuits - there is quite a bit of biscuit eating during Caryl Churchill's hour-long play about cloning.
The subtle costume changes, personality shifts and reactions to 'father' Salter's (Roger Allam) explanation of his past the signifiers that, while the looks and DNA are the same, 'life' has created three different people.
The biscuits and milk demonstrating, at times, familiarity with the setting, comfort or awkwardness. And, perhaps, a common, inexplicable character trait shared by his clones.
Giving A Number a domestic setting (the set changes are great) is an important and interesting choice by director Polly Findlay, the previous production I saw felt more clinical with minimal set.
It makes the sci-fi premise - a father cloning his son - more of a family drama throwing the emphasis on the father-son relationship and parenting.
At first, the tension of the piece is in discovering what Salter has done but later it is in the emotional impact of that decision.
What Allam brings to Salter is an understanding, if not sympathy, for why he has done what he has.
The emotional pain and desperation of past tragedy are subtle underneath the bumbling, socially awkward father.
Nature vs nurture
Morgan's performance brings to life the nature vs nurture debate, the common behavioural threads weave through subtly different body language, reactions and outlook.
We are treated to his native Northern Irish accent at one point* which is not only nice to hear but, combined with a more curious and effervescent personality serves as a damning indictment on Salter's parenting skills.
A Number, at just 60-minutes long, doesn't leave you much time to catch your breath. Allam and Morgan work every word, pause and look and the result is an emotionally tense and gripping family sci-fi drama.
I'm giving it ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.
You can see it at the Bridge Theatre until 14 March.
Theatre thesp spot: Sir Ian McKellan was in the house the night Poly and I was there.
* Actors switching accents in plays is not unprecedented, James McAvoy Cyrano (beautifully) mimicked the estuary twang of Christian in Cyrano de Bergerac recently. But to switch to a native accent when most of the play is not feels quite unique. Obviously the narrative means it works but I can't think of another occasion when something similar has happened.
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