a number

Maidment Theatre - Musgrove Studio, Auckland

20/09/2007 - 06/10/2007

Production Details

By Caryl Churchill
Director Cameron Rhodes


From the pen of one of the most influential dramatists, A Number is the first true play of the 21st century. Churchill takes on the most pressing ethical concern of our age- cloning, asking the most profound questions of all: what is it that makes us what we are, how responsible are we for our actions, and can we change the way we behave?

The New York Times calls OBIE Award-winning playwright Caryl Churchill “one of the most critically acclaimed playwrights in the English-speaking world, and perhaps the single most acclaimed female one” and her play A Number has mesmerised audiences in London and New York.

“Caryl Churchill’s magnificent new play contains more drama, and more ideas, than most writers manage in a dozen full-length works.” – The Guardian

Preview 19 September 8pm
Season 20th September to 6 October 8pm
Sundays 2pm, Sat 29th 2pm & 8pm
Musgrove Studio Maidment Theatre, 8 Alfred Street, Auckland.
Bookings phone (64 9) 308 2383 or go to www.maidment.auckland.ac.nz   

Salter  David Aston
Bernard 1:  Daniel Coppersmith
Bernard 2:  Daniel Coppersmith
Michael Black:  Daniel Coppersmith

Set Design:  Rachel Walker
Lighting design:  Nik Janiurek
Costume Design:  Brett Garton
Media Design:  Craig Fredrickson
Lighting operator & Stage manager:  Paul Sweeting-Shaw
Producer:  Health Jones
Producer:  Amy Jean Reeves
Producer:  Greg Bailey

Theatre ,

Questions of existential constructivism

Review by Nik Smythe 22nd Sep 2007

The set is a brown-shaded barcode carpet, complete with cutout numbers (deliberately selected or random?), and mahogany chair and chest.  The sepia tone old-photo effect is so striking that the glowing green exit sign on the back wall seems like part of the set but a strangely impossible colour. 

The main character, Salter, is named in the programme but never in the script. Neither are Bernards 1 & 2,  Salter’s natural son and the clone he had produced for a second chance to be a good father, nor Michael, one of twenty more clones made by the lab scientists which Salter himself hadn’t known existed until recently. Just which Bernard is the original is part of the plot’s intrigue, but it’s clear this story is being told to address the universal human question of identity. 

As the various details of the horrible secret are unraveled we confront the innate prejudice we put on life that hasn’t occurred entirely as we believe nature intended.  When one Bernard learns he’s a clone, it grieves him to think his life is somehow less relevant than his original twin.  This and other dilemmas all lead up to the payoff in the final scene, where Salter meets Michael, which is one of those wee delights that really would be spoiled if I explained why it’s so brilliant. 

David Aston’s Salter is the picture of middle aged angst, living. His son is probing him for answers, having just learned of his test-tube origin. Wrestling with the terrible mistakes he’s made, he’s also angling to make big money exposing the unlawful practice. Torn thus, Salter’s one-man moral division is ultimately the downfall of any happiness the story might have known if perhaps he’d been more cutthroat and killed the original Bernard

Daniel Coppersmith reaches far in the challenging task of portraying three characters who are identical visually but very different in temperament.  There is an honesty to his performance that endears us particularly with the first Bernard we meet.  It’s harder to sympathise with Bernard 2, and it seems ironic that the angry abandoned original has the most superficial mannerisms, such as having his fists clenched almost constantly throughout his appearances.

The performances, under the tight structured direction of Cameron Rhodes, are generally sound despite a frequent unnerving lack of stillness, which really serves to illustrate the fragility of the values, beliefs and attitudes with which we shape our personalities.

There is no sound designer credited in the programme, responsible for the selected tracks played during the strangely abstract scene transitions.  Nor is the composer of a particularly haunting violin piece credited, unless they are in the back page acknowledgments. 

The blue light (lighting designer Nik Janiurek) used during these transcendental breaks is another contrast to the otherwise black, white and brown setting.  I couldn’t really fathom what it was intended to symbolise, but since I’d just had my perception of my own identity and existence hijacked by questions of existential constructivism, what I do or don’t understand feels less important somehow.


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