★★★★ Review: Mosquitoes at the National Theatre
Until 28 September
Olivia Coleman delivers a predictably stunning performance in this bittersweet exploration of love and other powerful forces from Chimerica writer Lucy Kirkwood.
To the list of certainties in life – death, taxes, Piers Morgan being obnoxious – one can safely add Olivia Coleman defining acting excellence with every role. From Peep Show to The Night Manager via Twenty Twelve, Broadchurch and Tyrannosaur, Coleman has quietly established herself as one of the most reliably excellent actors of her generation.
In Mosquitoes, Lucy Kirkwood’s follow-up to the fantastic Chimerica, Coleman plays Jenny, a chronic Googler susceptible to every latest anti-vac trend and about to embark upon motherhood for the first time. Her sister Alice – played by Olivia Williams, also excellent – is a scientist based in Geneva, juggling the responsibilities of being a single mother to troubled teenager Luke and being part of the team preparing to fire up the Large Hadron Collider. The two are like chalk and cheese although, somehow, their relationship seems almost teflon coated against their abrasive differences.
That relationship is truly put to the test as a tragedy strikes, and this awkward, disjointed family – with forthright matriarch Karen along for the ride – is thrown together like the particles in Alice’s accelerator.
The supporting cast – not least Amanda Boxer as Alice & Jenny’s mother and Joseph Quinn as the loner son – are up to the challenge of sharing the stage with the two Olivia’s, and the Set, Lighting and Video Design of Katrina Lindsay, Paule Constable, and Finn Ross respectively are both imaginative and sympathetic to the story.
Kirkwood’s play is not always an easy watch, despite a disarming opening which crams in enough laughs that Mosquitoes might justifiably have been described as a comedy. Things take a turn for the traumatic, however, as the story jumps forward several months and we learn that motherhood has not come easily to Coleman’s chain-smoking, Crème de menthe swilling Jenny. Covering themes as diverse as mental health, dependency, gender politics, bereavement, grief, responsibility, sexting and ageing, Mosquitoes perhaps risks spreading itself too thin – and it’s true that the second half somehow doesn’t quite fulfil the promise of the relentlessly gripping first 80 minutes. But somehow one suspects that a play addressing these topics could never be perfect – imperfection, if anything, is the common thread throughout, as each character faces up to their own limitations against the backdrop of a universe of infinite possibilities.
At two hours and fifty minutes (including interval), it is telling that the time flies by – no numb bums for To Do List, and the intimate space of the NT’s Dorfman Theatre is as perfect here as it was (in its Cottesloe incarnation) for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. It’s a fairly short run though, and tickets sold out quickly, so be prepared to keep your eyes peeled for returns, or take your chance queuing up for day tickets. It’s worth it!