Mosquitoes (National Theatre, Dorfman)

Posted: July 31, 2017 in Theatre


Scientists may like to think that they can find a solution to every problem, but making sense of human behaviour is something that always seems to prove beyond them. Lucy Kirkwood’s new comedy/drama takes a scattergun approach to a wide range of scientific studies – finding the Higgs Boson particle, preventing diseases. safeguarding the internet and so on – concluding that, whatever course is set, it can all still be fouled up by man (or woman). Her play sees one family’s dysfunction as an example for proving the Chaos theory and, even though she falls some way short of achieving such a lofty objective, she gives us as good an evening of theatre as any around right now.

Kirkwood uses the same trick as did Nick Payne in Constellations. She blinds us with unfathomable science and leaves us wide open to taking emotional sucker punches. In Geneva, 42-year-old Alice is a leading physicist developing the Large Hadron Collider and she is as close as she can get to being certain that her work will not lead to a black hole in Switzerland. Back in Luton, her “stupid” 38-year-old sister Jenny dithers over allowing her baby to have the MMR jab, with tragic consequences. Their mother Karen, who had been forced to abandon an outstanding academic career to take up her domestic duties as a wife, faces the onset of dementia and incontinence, without seeking medical advice because it would provide scientific certainty of her conditions. Alice’s confused 17-year-old son, Luke, deeply unhappy at school and ignored by his workaholic single mother at home, dabbles with the internet and cyber hacking , falling victim to social media bullying and revenge porn.

The characters collide as Rufus Norris’s slick in-the-round production flashes, bangs and sizzles on Katrina Lindsay’s futuristic set design. White-coated scientists mill around and The Boson himself (Paul Hilton) lectures us on the five (or is it six?) routes to Armageddon. Many things concern and confuse us, not least of them how British television drama can possibly survive for several months without the services of the wonderful Olivia Colman, whose understated magnetism transfers intact from screen to stage. Her chain smoking, bewildered Jenny is locked into a love-hate relationship with her smart older sister, Olivia Williams’ fraught and anxious Alice.

Drama and comedy are balanced with precision in Kirkwood’s witty, insightful writing. A running gag sees the beleaguered Luke gifted a giant Toblerone by everyone who passes through an airport and his sexual initiation becomes an hilarious disaster, Joseph Quinn bringing out the character’s adolescent awkwardness to touching effect.  Amanda Boxer’s Karen is much more than a cantankerous old crone; she is embittered and frustrated, but still determined to show off her scientific prowess as a last throw of the dice. Perennial dilemmas of the young and the old are thrown into Kirkwood’s heady mix, along with a dash of feminism.

Packing in perhaps too many complex ideas and themes, Mosquitoes may be a mess, but it is a brilliant one that addles the brain and punctures the heart. The characters bicker, row and get on each other’s nerves and still the family bonds are always abundantly clear. As Kirkwood’s boffins declare that love is only the 12th most powerful force in the Universe, the stage here becomes awash with it.

Performance date: 28 July 2017

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