A play with brilliant acting and references to high-speed particles that risks becoming a bit of a drag
If you're looking for the best cast of actors student theatre has to offer, look no further than 'Mosquitoes'.
Lucy Kirkwood's story of two utterly dissimilar sisters – one a leading scientist at CERN, the other a non-achiever mourning the loss of her infant daughter – tackles so many themes that it's hard to know where to start. What this play ultimately seems to boil down to, though, is an arresting exploration of alienation, loneliness, gender politics and family relations in the digital age. Light entertainment it most definitely is not.
Every shade and nuance of Kirkwood's characters was brought to life with a degree of passion, conviction and professionalism that you could hardly find fault with. The characters of Luke, Alice, Jenny, and their mother were portrayed with such arresting physicality and intensity that the audience was totally immersed in this familial psychodrama. Impressively, less central figures, not least the journalist Lara Gallagher, were just as memorable.
The staging was equally captivating, the entire set recalling 1960s sci-fi in the best way possible. Most of the action took place inside a mobile cage, against the backdrop of a colourful, space-age Hadron Collider, whilst a masterful integration of sound and lighting throughout ensured that the audience was totally immersed in the action, with jarring moments of unbearable noise sending a chill down the spine.
'Mosquitoes' is the sort of play that merits intense analysis for the profound questions it raises. Yet Kirkwood's script weaves in as much thought-provoking existentialism as it does humour, punctuating the most intense moments of drama with sharp one-liners ("I could still menstruate if I was so inclined", and "that's a truly stellar dick", in particular, left the audience in stitches).
I was also struck, however, by the lack of content warnings for this play – despite the very graphic depictions of bullying, trauma, mental illness and suicide throughout. Whilst there is a balance to be maintained between alerting the audience and spoiling the plot, on this occasion these themes ought to have been signposted beforehand.
The main problem with 'Mosquitoes', though, is that it's simply too long. Clocking in at just under three hours, there were times when Kirkwood's meandering plot was too confusing to follow. Take for example the experimental physicist, a character whose raison d'être seemed to lie somewhere between emulating a tragic chorus and providing comic relief: though fantastically acted, the role was ultimately bizarre and inexplicable.
The experience of watching the play sometimes verged on disorienting, so much so that one audience member who left during the interval quipped that the playwright must have been a psychopath. This is frankly unfair. Good theatre doesn't need to make you grin from ear to ear – in fact, I haven't stopped thinking about 'Mosquitoes' since I watched it. But it's certainly true that the play's impact would have been ever greater had the first half not been quite so protracted.
To their credit, though, the cast never let the energy and passion of their performances drop. Even more than two hours in, the emotional confrontation between the two sisters in a prison visiting room was still so powerful as to elicit audible gasps from the audience.
If you have the chance, go and watch this play. The quality of the acting and the immersive experience of set, sound and lighting are worthy of your attention alone. For all its tortuous twists and turns, you won't leave the theatre unaffected.
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