Let’s get something out of the way - Olivia Colman is darn good at this acting malarkey isn't she? It might actually even be illegal to use her name without the prefix ‘Nation’s Favourite’. Amid rumours she isn’t a fan of stage performing and that Rufus Norris has been wooing her (metaphorically) for over two years, it’s easy to guess why only Day Seats and ‘Friday Rush’ tickets still remain for Lucy Kirkwood’s latest play. The result of such casting? Well, there may be “good acting” and there may be “great acting”… but then there’s Olivia Colman’s performance in Mosquitoes. And the playing field is no longer level.
Both can convey flaws when acting confident, playfulness when distraught, control when completely unravelling.
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There will of course be many fans of Kirkwood’s work too. Here the playwright continues her exploration of epic, divisive polemics seen through the real everyday folk who represent opposing views. 2013’s award-winning Chimerica looked at the superpowers of China and America through a Tiananmen Square protestor and an American journalist photographer. The more recent (in my uncommonly shared opinion, far too long and drawn out) Royal Court production of The Children, had the impact of – and responsibility for –nuclear fallout, played out during a reunion of three retirees.
Mosquitoes picks up this baton and takes it to Geneva and the launch of the Large Hadron Collider that made us all aware of something called Higgs Bosun (even if we've now kind of forgotten what that was all about). This event acts as a (non plot essential) backdrop against which we see what could be a personification of magnetised particles - at one side, staunch belief in scientific facts and logic, and on the other, an equally firm trust in hearts, love, gut feeling…and the internet - as they repel, fight and yet are still drawn to each other.
Making these polar opposites two sisters - both single mothers, one with a son possibly on the spectrum, and joined by their widowed mother who rues the dismissal of her input into science due to sexism ‘back in the day’ - adds a further theme: the role of family in our lives. Is being family in itself enough to overrule any differences in views? Or is it now just the name given to the structure of a biological necessity (future replacements for this are alluded to).
The thematic layers keep coming as seems common for Kirkwood - sexism, lies, motherhood, responsibility, social media, globalisation and a number of “now for the science bit” mini-lectures. As with the play itself, it’s best not to focus on these as they detract more than they add (to the play as they would to this review). Confident cutting and a firm single-mindedness could well make the whole night flawless.
For the beauty of this piece lies in the ear for the small detail of the everyday - with the nuances of the script ably highlighted by Rufus Norris’ directional focus on the intricacy of gesture - that makes conversations seemingly without topic or purpose bring to life the reality of the impact that can be had by holding such opposing beliefs. And the casting of Olivia Williams and Olivia Colman as the sisters (the former being the scientist at the heart of CERN and the latter, well, not the scientist and so just normal…or ‘stupid’) is the masterstroke.
They are equally adept at portraying people we think we know, people like us, seeming to “play themselves” (once an assumed definition of bad “acting” but now rightly accepted as pure talent). Both can convey flaws when acting confident, playfulness when distraught, control when completely unravelling. Though the subject of familial bond is rarely brought up, when the two women share the stage, they are seemingly unaware of their symbiosis that makes their relationship so very true.
(It seems unnecessary to comment on their ownership of the language as they have raised the bar so highly as for this to be seen as simply a given. Though there is immense pleasure to be had in watching Colman enjoy her use of sarcasm, annoying passive aggressive imitation and knowing the full impact that a well-positioned ‘Fuck’ can achieve.)
Alongside, ‘The Olivias’ (forgive me), Joseph Quinn as son Luke is also eminently watchable when physically demonstrating his own mental anguish from focusing on the inevitability of death in evolution. Though following so soon from playing similarly troubled youngsters in The Royal Court’s recent Wish List and the BBC’s Dickensian, I'm hoping his next role may allow him to show his jolly side. And Amanda Boxer as Karen, the women’s mother, has a strength to voice and movement that creates a roundly rumbustious matriarch.
Scientist RIchard P Grant writes in the programme that if we use only logic as a persuasive tool, then we are doomed to fail, stating that “from the brain to the heart can be a very long way indeed.” Mosquitoes taps both brains and hearts in equal measure and the best thing is that you almost don’t know it has crept in. Which is a statement that could equally be applied to - in particular - the deceptively simple, yet powerfully affecting performance of Olivia Colman. If you missed out on tickets at the beginning of this, go set your alarm for tomorrow. You really don’t want to miss this if you can help it. And with 3 out of 3 shows at the Dorfman this year so far being 4-star rated at worse, don’t write off the output of the National in 2017 too hastily.