Every death is the end of the world. Or a world. Someone’s world. Mosquitoes by Lucy Kirkwood places the star-spangled, ever-expanding majesty of the cosmos alongside the lived experience of being a conscious human-shaped blob of atoms. For every black hole that threatens to consume planet Earth courtesy of CERN, there is the cavernous void that opens up when a child dies or goes missing.
Alice (Olivia Williams) and Jenny (Olivia Colman) are two genetically-linked atom blobs once produced by older atom blob Karen (Amanda Boxer) thanks to the everyday miracle of sperm meeting egg. Like many DNA-sharing Homo sapiens, Alice and Jenny act towards each other according to the central tenets of the universe; at times being a life-giving force, at others being instrumental in decay and destruction.
In a play that deals a good hand in fever-pitch family dynamics, the characters are all, by turn, compellingly in need of loving and repellent in their obnoxiousness. For those with families that systematically remove any cheer from Christmas, Mosquitoes is not the story to make you anticipate December with a renewed sense of positivity. There’s a metaphor-in-waiting about all the collisions happening in the pipe at CERN and the pitter-patter of putdowns perforating the family unit, but it probably does Kirkwood an injustice in its over-simplification. You get the feeling she’s reaching for something much more ambitious than basic parallels.
In the beginning, we are told in one of the interludes with a character called The Boson (Paul Hilton), there was chaos. And indeed the threat of disorder pulses throughout Rufus Norris’s production. Along with pieces of peculiar beauty, the play also contains a number of negative elements [please enjoy that irresistibly awful pun].
There’s an awkward visualisation of an online instant message chat, all down-with-the-kids LOLs, pokes and comments about (more LOLs) Youtube clips. There’s also the obligatory Trump joke (can we please call a moratorium on all faux-casual on-stage wit about the 45th president of the United States?). Slightly better is the uncertainty principle joke that might have solicited more laughs from the London audience had it arrived after, not before, Simon Stephens’ Heisenberg opening at Wyndham’s Theatre in October.
In other ways though, a preference for anarchy is precisely what makes Mosquitoes interesting. Joseph Quinn as the teenage Luke installs in each sudden, pouncing movement the latent violence that young men unused to their new physical heft often carry with them. There’s a breath-stalling nanosecond as each clumsy lurch forward starts when you wonder if it’s culminating in a hug for his aunt or a knife stabbed into her skull.
As Luke demonstrates, the chaos underlining Mosquitoes resides as much in its understanding of being human as in its presentation of science. Jenny is routinely scorned by her family for being the ‘thick’ one. It’s her mother and sister who apparently possess a keen grasp on reality. Yet despite being the star of CERN, Alice can’t figure out or control her son’s behaviour. Karen, meanwhile, is reaching the age where even her body can’t be relied on to function without mishap.
Most of all, Jenny’s refusal of the MMR vaccine for her daughter doesn’t fully explain why the child was unfortunate enough to contact a particularly severe strain of measles – I mean, before vaccinations were invented, whether you caught a disease was still subject to a degree of chance or, as people normally call it, ‘bad luck’. Try as we might to better understand the most minute parts of the universe, controlling it remains as impossible as ever. Conception, illness, death. Look closer and we still don’t really have a handle on any of this.
Mosquitoes is on at the National Theatre until 28 September 2017. Click here for more details.