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Theatre Review: A Number ****

Michael Cox reviews a strong production with two brilliant performances.

Caryl Churchill’s A Number is a provocative, highly intelligent play that asks more questions than most films or theatre productions. The fact it clocks in under an hour makes this fact all the more impressive.

The play is set in an undisclosed time: it might be now or the near future. Bernard has discovered that he is a clone and is filled with tough questions, chief among them: who is he? His conversation with Salter, his father, only manages to raise even more questions—questions that will lead them both down dark paths of discovery.

Churchill’s script is a cracker. Structured like a thriller but written as both family drama and scientific debate, the play is moving, funny and consistently engaging.

Director Zinnie Harris has created a production that is swift in pace yet always tense. Working with Fred Meller’s box set (simple looking yet effective and more complicated than it originally seems), Ben Ormerod’s crucial lighting and Michael John McCarthy’s sound design, the hour-long production is relentless from the start.

But its true triumph is found in its two cast members. Brian Ferguson is phenomenal as Bernard, giving a nuanced performance that is complicated yet easy to empathise with. He plays multiple characters, all of whom come across as fully realised and easy to differentiate. Peter Forbes perhaps has the far more difficult role of Salter, who knows more than he initially says. His is the less showy role but is equally effective in its emotional potency.

A Number performed at the Royal Lyceum as part of the Edinburgh International Science Festival. Its run has ended.

Tags: theatre

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