The Children is the perfect Christmas show for 2016, because it feels like the grimmest version of A Christmas Carol that could be conceived.
In A Christmas Carol, there are three ghosts: The Ghosts of Christmas past, of Christmas present and of Christmas yet to come.
In 2016, there have been a series of events that have led to what seems like a worldwide feeling of uncertainty and dread – it’s difficult to tell fact from satire as new battle lines are drawn between ideologies.
In The Children, Rose is all three ghosts responding to and revolting against the strange feelings 2016 has spawned.
She arrives in a dank present (set in the not too distant future), a ghost from the past. She is an old lover, an old friend, and she stirs up emotions that have long been dormant in the small cottage of Robin and Hazel. She is Robin’s Belle – the what might have been – and Hazel’s quiet rival.
Rose shows them what is happening now. She is fiercely intelligent and beautifully seductive because of it. She shows them the dead cows and the dead crops and the polluted water and the inability to use a working flushing toilet. For Robin and Hazel, she makes them question and rediscover their present and their responsibility – but for the audience she is already the ghost of the future.
Finally, she reveals that future to Hazel and to Robin, and it shakes them into reluctant action. She is the ghost that shows them how the future for them – for their children and for all the other scared, shattered children – could be, and they take action in the present. They don’t wake with joy in their hearts and share turkey or break bread with the poor, but they take responsibility. Resigned.
There is joy in it, briefly – but it is joy as deliberate respite, almost as choice – a dogged refusal to allow everything to be marred by the world outside the decaying door. Self-conscious yoga, self-conscious dancing, self medication. It’s the same joy that 2016’s Christmas will bring – a reason to take a break from never-ending bad news, the sheer relief of being allowed, very briefly, not to care, and the wonder that that for now is still just a little bit possible.
In twenty, in fifty years time, will we look back and feel responsible? Will the safety pins and solidarity tweets have been enough, or will we feel the same pangs of guilt and step aside to allow a new generation to take the reigns and hope for better? It does not feel unlikely that the world is about to turn in on itself or erupt, and like the World Wars of our grandparents’ lives, will we look back and wonder how it came to this? This is what resonates with me, as I sit and watch Rose put on her brave, stern face – what more can I do now, so that I am not needed later?
And so The Children is the perfect show for Christmas 2016. It is a bleak, blistering look back at a year of turning points and towards an unknown. A ripped up ghost story. It isn’t a celebration, but with what lies beyond the New Year, we don’t know for certain that we should be celebrating anyway.