At the Dorfman Theatre(NT)
29th July, 2017
Lucy Kirkwood and Rufus Norris – What’s not to like!
Mosquitoes is set in Switzerland among the scientific community who have come to work at the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) in order to find the Higgs Boson, the infinitesimal particle believed to be the elusive thing binding all matter together, indeed holding everything together in the universe. This event acts as backdrop against which we see a personification of magnetised particles. On the one side, staunch belief in scientific facts and logic, and on the other, an emotional resilience, gut feelings and the internet – as they repel, fight and yet are still drawn to each other.
The title works on several levels: the force of a proton collision is described as being like two mosquitoes flying into each other, and Alice’s boyfriend is a World Health Organization entomologist trying to combat insect-borne diseases.
So on one level, the play is the story of sisters Alice (Olivia Williams) and Jenny (Olivia Colman). Alice and Jenny could not be more different, with one invested in hard science and the other a horoscope-reading, gullible woman. Alice is a brilliant scientist who has been working at CERN in Geneva for eleven years. In 2008, she is presented with the opportunity of a lifetime: to work on the Large Hadron Collider to search for the Higgs Boson. Alice also has a son, Luke, who is critical of the environmental impacts of his mother’s work and believes his Aunt to be stupid. Jenny, Alice’s sister, lives in Luton where she sells medical insurance to women with vaginal cancer and looks after their ailing mother (Amanda Boxer), and has lost her baby because of following some advice she found online against vaccination. In addition to carrying the guilt, Jenny is also underhandedly reminded of her stupidity by her mother, who calls Alice “the clever one. Alice flies to Geneva for an impromptu holiday with her mother, who we are reminded is a retired scientist who missed out on the Nobel Prize because their father took the credit.
Paul Hilton, who plays Alice’s estranged partner, a brilliant but unhinged physicist listed in the credits simply as “The Boson”. His monologues on the wonder of scientific discovery, fused with the visceral panic of experiencing mental breakdown, are sensational, reflected in Katrina Lindsay’s deceptively simple set which transforms into Cern and then transports the audience to outer space. A large, circular, mirrored metal frame is suspended above the stage, and is, at various points, lowered and rotated to create a visual emulation of the large hadron collider. Cosmic graphics of stars and planets are projected across the stage to support academic explanations, and when combined with overwhelming sound design, smoke and lighting effects, create an engaging audio visual experience. All enhanced with Paule Constable’s lighting and Paul Arditti’s atmospheric sound. As the play is staged in-the-round in the Dorfman, Katrina Lindsay’s set works admirably.
There’s also a sizeable subplot about Alice’s son Luke, an intelligent young man who doesn’t fit in at school. This almost feels like a separate play.
As the family goes into meltdown so does the LHC. But the series of mini science lectures detract more than they add to the play.
“Broadchurch” actress Olivia Colman is credible in portraying Jenny, the black sheep of her brainy family, a chain-smoking underachiever. Her ascerbic quick wit, desperation, and emotional waiverings are at times endearirng. Mmmm…….as much as I admire Colman, I can’t help feeling that her performances often seem similar. Olivia Williams is convincing in conveying the uptightness and scientific certainty and superiority of Alice.
It’s a shame, then, that there are too many competing plotlines and themes, such as sibling rivalry, particle physics, teenage bullying, being a female scientist, parenting, computer hacking, as well as the anti-vaccination movement- which all tumble towards the end in an unsatisfactorily forced conclusion. Additionally, here is also onstage vomiting, incontinence, spanking and a semi-nude sexting scene. All amusing enough, but all designed for cheap laughs.
Yes, Mosquitoes is topical: it’s about the gap between what the experts say and popular opinion. 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. For me, Chimerica, about the relationship between the US and China, remains the best of Kirkwood’s plays.