A Number

Caryl Churchill
Salberg Studio, Salisbury Playhouse

Production photo

As a packed Studio audience sat riveted by Christopher Haydon's production of Caryl Churchill's latest play A Number, the word "Pinteresque" entered my mind.

That was before I realised that this highly complex and deeply disturbing work had already, following performances in New York, been dubbed "Beckettian". And I certainly don't intend to quarrel with that!

This play is directed by Christopher Haydon, currently on attachment at Salisbury Playhouse through a Chichester Festival Theatre Fellowship combined with a Regional Theatre Director's Bursary.

A Number certainly requires the attention of a director of more than average mind with a flare for, to say the least, the convoluted.

It took me some time to get in touch with the fact that Fergus O'Donnell was playing three roles, if not more since his characters, Bernard one and Bernard two, together with Michael, are clones - for this is a dark excursion into the awesome questions of identity.

If director Haydon is fascinated by issues of identity, I hesitate to ask where Churchill stands!

While at first it seems that O'Donnell is the man with the multiplicity of roles, as the play proceeds I cease to be so sure for it is surely Pip Donaghy as Salter, the man who has been playing God with matters of genes.

It's all rather puzzling, even terrifying, the more so with the repetitious heartbeat pulse of the interludes. And though, as Haydon points out, the desire to correct errors of the past is an entirely human one, nevertheless, the thought that through whatever agency, theological or scientific, there may be those sharing our identity, is distinctly sinister.

"A Number" runs in the Salberg Studio until Saturday 4th October 2008.

Reviewer: Kevin Catchpole

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