A Number

A NUMBER by Churchhill,         , Writer - Caryl Churchill, Director - Michael Longhurst, Designer - Tom Scutt, Lighting - Lee Curran, The Young Vic Theatre, 2015, Credit: Johan Persson/

I was excited about A Number, at first. Playing with ticketing is awesome, so when you just get a number in lieu of a ticket I thought that was cool. It was cool for the first 5 minutes, too, because the set design is interesting and it’s (kind of) a good topic. But then it got less cool and got kind of boring.

There’s something sad, I think, about not finding the joy in a thing so many people though was a good thing. Being left out of the celebration.

Like, honestly, I thought it was dull. It’s set in this cube of mirrors (think Almeida’s Game but less modern flat, more Ikea shed) so there are an infinite number of the two characters. It feels like you are watching a futuristic style science experiment. Which means it feels sterile, and clinical, and like something you might answer some questions on in a GCSE exam. I didn’t feel any blistering, disturbing stuff that a lot of people got. I felt like there was a big pane of glass between me and feeling even remotely emotionally engaged.

Casting an actual father and son seemed odd, too, when watching. The performances sit strangely depending on which bit you are at. There’s not enough distance to feel between the father and the Original Son to generate any real sense of hatred, but they don’t look similar, sound that similar or move similarly enough for it to really matter during the bits between the father and The Second Actual Son. It just seemed like it was a good thing to write on a press release to get some features done, rather than a quality casting decision that would really influence the production.

Maybe I’m just emotionally unavailable. Everyone else was so tied to these clones and this man and everything between them, and I was thinking about getting food afterwards. I don’t feel like I didn’t get it or something, I feel bad for not feeling anything, and for not finding the amazing in the amazing. Because it isn’t like it’s really shit or anything. It’s fine.

Then there’s this other thing… where I just didn’t see the point. Like casting a father and son for a press release, putting on A Number feels like putting on a classic to sell some tickets (it worked). That’s fine, too, because you need to make the dollar and keep your audiences interested, but I just think if you do then find a way of making it really matter. There’s nothing that makes this feel relevant to Real Life now. The bit I felt most excited by was in the final scene when, towards the end, the final clone talks about his children and pulls out a phone to show the old man photos. It felt like A Thing That Might Happen, amidst a play of otherwise unlikely, distant situations. A PHONE. That was what got me even slightly excited, because at least they’d tried to make it up to date.

Are people actually fussed about cloning? Do people genuinely worry someone might scrape off a few bits of dry skin and then use it to generate an army of clones? It doesn’t feel scary to me, but I was 5 when Dolly the Sheep was first created so it feels like just a part of the science of my time, and I can see the use of the research. Plus, I don’t feel as a society we are anti things all being the same. The Young Vic, like every other theatre in London, sits opposite a Pret A Manger. On the way into work if I stop at Clapham High Street Station I can see three separate branches of Sainsburys. Maybe seeing a small army of people who looked just like you would be as comforting as knowing that you can buy own-brand orange juice every 30 metres.

The Young Vic


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