Theatre Reviews: A Number and Threepenny Opera

Niall and George Costigan in A Number
Niall and George Costigan in A Number
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A Number, York Theatre Royal Studio ****

The last time this show was seen in Yorkshire it was with father and son acting team Timothy and Sam West.

In York, George and Niall Costigan take on the roles of a father and several clones of his son. Caryl Churchill, a dozen years ago now, wrote this play as an exploration of human cloning and the consequences of our scientific advances. Costigan senior plays Salter, a man who we believe lost his son in a car crash and who, stricken with grief, found the money to create a clone of his son.

As the first clone arrives at the door, we realise the story as we have heard it might not be quite what it seemed. There is a major issue with this play in that it is, arguably, a fascinating essay wrapped up in a piece of theatre.

To some, that is a problem, others will enjoy the intellectual demands of the piece. Similarly, while some will find Churchill’s stilted dialogue off-putting, others will enjoy hearing the words that lay in between the lines she has crafted.

The production wins the argument that it is more than an essay by being smart, sharp and clinical.

Costigan senior and Junior do sterling work, although Niall sometimes finds himself relying on cliche to differentiate between the three different versions of the character he is playing.

There is much here to recommend a fascinating and intelligent discussion of a complex issue.

• To May 24.

Threepenny Opera, West Yorkshire Playhouse ***

Why should this play, this production, exist now? If the answer can’t be given robustly, then a production is coming from a weak starting point. This production of Brecht’s coruscating work couldn’t be more timely, relevant and necessary.

In a time of austerity when society’s vulnerable feel more attacked than at any time in the past decade, the story of the survival of the “untermensch” needs to be told.

Pushing the Brechtian principles from the very start, this production from leading disabled theatre company Graeae begins in the foyer with the cast singing protest songs about living life underfoot. While there is energy and anger on stage, it is not always laser guided, at times leading to a messy production that feels like it is lacking focus.

The performances are not always sharp, although the music and singing are both top notch. A great singing voice and wonderful stage presence, Milton Lopes as Macheath is not always convincing. The women are stronger, Amelia Cavallo as a particularly feisty Jenny and Natasha Lewis as Lucy are both completely engaging.

A production with much to say, it would be all the more powerful if it just got on and said it.

• To May 10.