Eight good reasons to see A Number at the Old Vic cover photo

Eight good reasons to see A Number at the Old Vic

Eight good reasons to see A Number at the Old Vic cover photo

Lyn Gardner explains why Caryl Churchill's play is one not to miss

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A Number

A Number

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  1. It’s a great play for two actors, and it has them here in the veteran actor Lennie James who plays the father, and the mighty Paapa Essiedu as the son(s). In the past it has attracted the best, including pairings that include Michael Gambon and Daniel Craig in the premiere at the Royal Court in 2002, real life father and son Samuel and Timothy West at Sheffield Crucible in 2006, real life father and son John and Lex Sharpnel at Nuffield Southampton in 2014 and most recently Roger Allam and Colin Morgan at the Bridge in 2020.

  2. It’s a play in which the words “hello daddy” have never been so charged. Think of them less as a greeting and more as a verbal hand grenade.

  3. It’s written by the astonishing Caryl Churchill, a genuine theatrical pioneer. As Dominic Dromgoole says in The Full Room (great book, by the way) “her particular courage is that every time she starts, she seems to wipe her own slate well and truly clean. Most good writers are able to ignore what others are writing or have written, but very few are strong enough to ignore the allure of their own previous work.”

  4. Like all Churchill’s plays, it’s deceptively simple and as slippery as a skating rink. It poses the question: what if you discovered that you were not as unique as you always considered yourself? What if it turned out that there were a number of copies of you? Who does that make you? If you meet a copy of yourself who exactly are you meeting?

Roger Allam and Colin Morgan in the 2020 production at the Bridge Theatre. Photo by Johan Persson.

  1. It's not just a play that brings out the best in great actors; it is also a phenomenal vehicle that brings out the best in director/design partnerships. It’s got a thrilling one at the Old Vic in Lyndsey Turner and Es Devlin, both bone fide class acts.

  2. It was a play which was ahead of its time when it premiered in 2002, six years after the cloning of Dolly the Sheep (RIP), and a year after the UK legalized cloning for therapeutic purposes. But in 2021 it remains a play which is on the nose when considering identity and examining the very source of the self.

  3. If you think that sounds all very dry, it is also the best play I know about the responsibilities, the cruelties, and the pitfalls of parenting. Babies often seem perfect to their parents and full of promise when they are tiny, but what happens as they grow and develop personalities—and a will-- of their own and the promise tarnishes? What parent hasn’t wanted a second chance to get it right.

  4. If you don’t believe me that it’s a great play, then listen to Sam Shepard, who starred in the New York premiere and declared it “the most brilliant play since Waiting for Godot.”

Cover photo by Manuel Harlan of Lennie James in rehearsals for A Number at The Old Vic from 24 Jan to 19 Mar 2022. Tickest can be found here.

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Lyn Gardner
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