Review – Children of the Sun, National Theatre

Friday 12 April 2013


Now here’s a first and a SPOILER ALERT but as this was a first preview we cannnot guarantee it will happen again.* Pity.

Maxim Gorky’s Children of the Sun** may have begun with a whimper but it certainly ended with a bang: a stage explosion so intense it probably finished off a few senior members of the audience (obviously we survived to tell the tale). The heat could be felt several rows back in the stalls. The shock was so great, Phil let out an involuntary “Jesus!” and possibly a little wee. But even more excitingly – such was its impact – it set off the Lyttleton’s fire alarm.

Theatre doesn’t get much better than this.

This is what the audience left the theatre talking about. What more does one need to say? It’s tempting to stop here.

Protasov (Geoffrey Streatfeild, charismatic) is an idealistic scientist preoccupied with perfecting mankind just before the Russian revolution came along with similar aspirations. The stage is filled with the paraphernalia of his chemical experimentation. So, in deference to his obsession we have plundered the periodic table to gather our thoughts…

(Up) Uptonium      Mr Cate Blanchett, Andrew Upton has updated another Russian play for the National (The White Guard, Philistines etc) so of course…

(By) Bunnium     Ms Bunny Christie designs – impressively, with lots of glass panelled doors, passages and a laboratory visible off the vast main room. But did we spot the trace element (Dv) Déjàvuium?

(Hw) Howardium    Mr Howard Davies directs efficiently. When the National get a Russian text there is usually one sure way forward; Howard’s way.

(Pt) Plotium    Cholera is breaking out. Protasov’s experiments may be leaking. The villagers are restless. Some think his wicked leaks may be the cause of disease. A mob (free radicals?) turn up at the gates. Protasov’s wife Yelena (Justine Mitchell) may be in love with an artist, Vageen (Gerald Kyd). Someone else is definitely in love with Protasov…

(Gc) Glenncloseium   Very unstable. Sister of the local vet Boris (Paul Higgins), Melaniya (Lucy Black, touchingly unhinged) is nuts about Protasov. No, actually she’s just nuts. Fortunately the scientist is so detatched from the world he barely notices her passion even though she offers to do anything for him. This she proves by repeatedly getting down on her knees in front of him. He disappoints her by suggesting she supplies him with fresh eggs every day..

(Om) Omletteium    By chance Melaniya keeps chickens and turns up with her eggs fresh and ready for him. Unfortunately her eggs are not utilised in the way she desires. Who’s more cracked? Melaniya or the eggs? We saw this as a metaphor. This bullying, self-obsessed group of people throw them around the stage, smashing them and causing an awfully icky mess. Poor Melaniya. Poor stagehands. Distressing waste of eggs. Our mothers would be horrified.

(Mum) Mummium     We assume the household’s dining table is a periodic table, for it is conjoined with one where Protasov experiments with chemicals. Someone also stands on it. Awfully unhygienic. Again, our mothers would be horrified.

(Ny) Nannythemium    Nanny (Maggie McCarthy) to Professor Protasov and his sickly sister Liza (Chekhov’s wife originated this role apparently, here it is taken by Emma Lowndes) bustles efficiently trying to keep order amongst her children of the sun. She’s always being despatched to heat up water in an off-stage samovar for the experiments. Phil enjoyed a moment musing on The Nanny and the Professor.

(Mph) Metaphorium    The characters are rather intense, prone to talking over each other or in metaphors whilst forming unstable bonds.

(Mm) Medium    The vet has the gift of foresight. Commenting that he’s seen three motor cars, he predicts accidents and that people will no longer walk.

(Df) Dwarfium    Big Bang theory. The play begins with some loud banging (which is neatly – if predictably – echoed at the end) from a worker as he appears to break into a chorus of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ “Heigh-Ho”. Yes, really!

(Otoh) Ontherotherhandium     We do get to see one of Protasov’s experiments live on stage.

(Mt) Maggieum     Thatcher was once a research chemist. Protasov imerses himself in chemistry at the expense of his artist wife. Science over the Arts? A timely tribute.

(Umm) Ummium      So, apart from that, what’s it saying then? No idea really. Didn’t buy a programme. You don’t come here for insight do you?

(Td) Tedium    This is a highly critical element that can sometimes be discovered in (Ad) Auditorium. Only small traces were detected.

PS (Ps) Proscenium     The Lyttleton has one. Naturally it’s the Whingers’ favourite element.

* Our spies report there was no fire alarm at the second preview. You see, sometimes it does pay to get in early.

** Not to be confused with the proactive consciousness platform initiating conscious evolution through activities that build unity and global coherence AKA Ambassadors of Light Assisting the Ascension of Humanity

Chemical analysis



8 Responses to “Review – Children of the Sun, National Theatre”

  1. artspreview Says:

    Reblogged this on Arts Preview.

  2. We’ll see what happens with that — the ship date for the next few minutes I will tell you what the diet recipe book and explain why the diet recommends saturated fat.

  3. Jamie Says:

    ‘Right, Bunny: create a wonderful set so the audience don’t notice that there’s nothing else going on on stage until ‘the spoiler’ at the end.
    ‘As the male actors all look the same (especially from the back of the circle) lets resort to Archers casting: you take an Irish accent, you a Scottish one and you, you do RP’
    (Unfortunately this didn’t extend to the female actresses who all looked the same, and had the same hairstyle. I knew she was somebody’s sister, but whose?)’
    ‘Now to quicken the whole play up lets talk over each other as much as possible’
    The play still lasted a dreary 2 hours twenty minutes.

  4. Jamie Says:

    ‘Oh and Andrew. Write a script with lots of swear words so the play can get some cheap laughs. That’s what Gorky would have wanted’.

  5. Ls Says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed it and thought it was very funny. The men and women all looked different and it was easy to work out who was who.

  6. Jay Says:

    I concur Jamie except we had the added benefit of the cougher’s club,with two particularly bad hackers. I think it was a displacement activity after being bored to death..

  7. Chekhov worshiper Says:

    Though I have vaguely happy 40 year-old memories of David Jones’ RSC “Summerfolk,” I come to Gorky as warily as to almost any Elizabethan play by anyone other than Shakespeare. I saw this last night, straight after a gobbled meal, resigned to nodding off, as I frequently do, before the interval. How surprised I was then to find myself kept happily awake by the most electric Russian production I’ve ever seen at the NT. Brilliant ensemble. Brilliant staging on brilliant stage. I loathe standing ovations but was sorry at the curtain call that the stage wasn’t showered with roses. Three glasses, Whingers? Not April 30th! I’d give it a magnum––and unlike poor Jay on the 26th, I’d be supported by everyone else in the audience: not one cough start to finish, not even during one magnificently sustained dramatic pause. Long before the final explosion the Whingers gave away, this was The Cherry Orchard juiced with nitro-glycerine. To me The Cherry Orchard’s as good as it gets but last night under Howard Davies’ spell I thought Chekhov had been surpassed. The morning after, I realise he couldn’t have been––but that’s not how it felt in the Lyttleton.

  8. Sandown Says:

    In the 1970’s, the RSC was very keen on the plays of Maxim Gorky. Being parlour revolutionaries themselves, they found his combination of Marxist theorizing and ultimate apocalyptic violence almost unbearably thrilling.

    Indeed, the RSC continued in that vein throughout the decade and the one following. And in 1989 the revolution finally did arrive — but it overthrew Communism instead.

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