A Number

In one sense, this Lyceum revival of Caryl Churchill’s 2002 play is exactly the “dynamic two-hander” described in the programme: the only actors on stage are Peter Forbes, as regret-filled father Salter, and Brian Ferguson as his son Bernard. Yet, as we move from one scene to the next—with an audience jump-inducing flare of light—we come to realise that Ferguson is actually switching between three characters, Bernard and two clones.

genuinely engaging revival of an intelligently written, emotionally authentic drama

His challenge, therefore, is to show both the commonalities between three genetically identical men and the very real differences in temperament that have arisen out of their very different lives. Much of the groundwork for this is, of course, in Churchill’s script, first performed just a few years after scientists at the Roslin Institute near Edinburgh had pushed cloning from long-established science fiction trope into reality in the form of Dolly the Sheep. Nevertheless, while Bernard 1 and Bernard 2 are both angry—specifically at their father—it’s the subtle nuances of Ferguson’s performance that distinguishes them as individuals.

The exact cloning process that creates Bernard 2 and Michael Black, one of “a number” of clones which the scientists had created—unknown to Salter—is left sufficiently vague beyond mention of a few scraped cells. The emphasis here, of course, is on consequences, not least the unravelling of parental lies and the undermining of their sense of self. Bernard 1, who was put into care by a drunken farther unable to cope, is understandably angry that he was essentially “replaced”. Bernard 2, cloned some four years later, now feels like a copy created for a second try at parenthood.

Given the scope of the play, many of the more brutal consequences arising from the discovery of the cloning happen away from Fred Meller’s starkly empty set; director (and fellow playwright) Zinnie Harris opts for a minimalist environment—bare room, just two wooden chairs—where atmosphere is expressed as much through Ben Ormerod’s strong lighting as Churchill’s script. This is most clear in the final encounter, between a humbled, emotionally drained Salter and previously unknown clone Michael Black, a happily married father of three children whose optimism is underscored by the warm sunshine bathing a room full of children’s toys.

Like many of science fiction’s most important female writers who have also explored themes around cloning, Churchill’s authorial view on “nature versus nurture” debate appears to fall on the side of the latter; that, while our genetic inheritance is an important part of who we are, it’s by no means the defining factor—as emphatically underscored in this genuinely engaging revival of an intelligently written, emotionally authentic drama that’s far from being a clone itself. 

Reviews by Paul F Cockburn

Royal Lyceum Theatre

Mrs Puntila And Her Man Matti

★★
Traverse Theatre

W*nk Buddies

★★★
Traverse Theatre

Pride Plays

★★★★
Multiple Venues

Oor Wullie

★★★★
Oran Mor / Traverse Theatre

Fly Me To The Moon

★★★★
Platform / Traverse Theatre

The Panopticon

★★★★

Since you’re here…

… we have a small favour to ask. We don't want your money to support a hack's bar bill at Abattoir, but if you have a pound or two spare, we really encourage you to support a good cause. If this review has either helped you discover a gem or avoid a turkey, consider doing some good that will really make a difference.

You can donate to the charity of your choice, but if you're looking for inspiration, there are three charities we really like.

Mama Biashara
Kate Copstick’s charity, Mama Biashara, works with the poorest and most marginalised people in Kenya. They give grants to set up small, sustainable businesses that bring financial independence and security. That five quid you spend on a large glass of House White? They can save someone’s life with that. And the money for a pair of Air Jordans? Will take four women and their fifteen children away from a man who is raping them and into a new life with a moneymaking business for Mum and happiness for the kids.
Donate to Mama Biashara now

Theatre MAD
The Make A Difference Trust fights HIV & AIDS one stage at a time. Their UK and International grant-making strategy is based on five criteria that raise awareness, educate, and provide care and support for the most vulnerable in society. A host of fundraising events, including Bucket Collections, Late Night Cabarets, West End Eurovision, West End Bares and A West End Christmas continue to raise funds for projects both in the UK and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Donate to Theatre MAD now

Acting For Others
Acting for Others provides financial and emotional support to all theatre workers in times of need through the 14 member charities. During the COVID-19 crisis Acting for Others have raised over £600,000 to support theatre workers affected by the pandemic.
Donate to Acting For Others now

Performances

Location

The Blurb

“Have you met the others?”

Bernard has spent 35 years believing he’s an only child, one of a kind, until he learns the chilling truth. He’s one of “a number” of clones resulting from a nefarious genetic experiment. When he confronts his father, Salter, questions of identity and morality result in an explosive exchange with dire consequences.

A Number showcases Caryl Churchill’s consummate skill in creating brilliantly compelling drama bristling with ideas, and is directed by another accomplished playwright, Zinnie Harris. This dynamic two-hander is the starting point for a powerful debate about the boundaries and ethics of science.

A Number is presented in partnership with the Edinburgh International Science Festival alongside a series of talks which will take place before the show.

Most Popular See More

The Play That Goes Wrong

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Mamma Mia!

From £18.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Back to the Future - The Musical

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Pretty Woman: The Musical

From £18.00

More Info

Find Tickets

The Phantom of the Opera

From £27.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Anything Goes

From £42.00

More Info

Find Tickets