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A CurtainUp London Review
A Number

"We've got ninety-nine per cent the same genes as any other person. We've got ninety per cent the same as a chimpanzee. We've got thirty per cent the same as a lettuce."
— Michael
A Number
Roger Allam as Salter and Colin Morgan as one of his cloned sons
(Photo: Johan Persson)
I first saw A Number in 2002 at the Royal Court with a giant of the theatre Sir Michael Gambon as Salter. Salter here is played by Roger Allam in Polly Findlay's production at the Bridge Theatre. The younger men then were played by a less well known Daniel Craig but now they are acted by Colin Morgan.

Most of Caryl Churchill's plays have elements that make the audience work, or enigmatic, or obtuse moments that make you think. In terms of family history, the wide availability and reduction in price of DNA tests and the ever enlarging data base are exposing secrets long kept under wraps. Maud Dromgoole's play review here was about the many children to women who attended a London fertility clinic being secretly fathered by a single man.

In A Number Salter is meeting three of his sons cloned from one who was lost. We actually cannot be sure of anything Salter says as he verbally wriggles or lies to explain the inconsistencies in the questions from each man. Goodness knows what the outcome would be if these clones were to compare notes! Caryl Churchill's comparison of two genetically identical men who have had different upbringings is no longer as shocking as it was when these unethical experiments on identical twins were allowed. The nature/nurture debate has been tested accidentally when twins have been separated in adoption.

The issue here for the men is who are they if a clone exists elsewhere. Salter seemed not to realise that so many had been cloned when he thought it was just one and his first reaction is to think of suing for the unauthorised duplicates.

Lizzie Clachan's set turns to give a completely new back view, but the front of which is just seen from a different angle. Maybe this is a design touch which errs towards the obvious.

Roger Allam is excellent at conveying ambivalence and duplicitous shame, his eyes searching for an answer that will get him out of a sticky situation. Colin Morgan has three identities to convey and of course has to look similar although the outcome for each clone has been very different. B1 is very aggressive with a negative view of the world but B2 has had a better upbringing. At 60 minutes A Number is probably too slight a play for those of us who have seen it before. The London review in 2002 is under the 2004 review in New York on this link. reviews here

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A Number
Written by Caryl Churchill
Directed by Polly Findlay
Starring: Roger Allam, Colin Morgan
Designer: Lizzie Clachan
Lighting Design: Peter Mumford
Composer: Marc Tritschler
Running time: 60 minutes without an interval
Box Office: 0333 320 0051
Booking to 14th March 2020
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 20th February 2020 evening performance at the Bridge Theatre, 3 Potters Fields Park, London SE1 2SG (Rail/Tube: London Bridge)
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