Picking A Number was an easy choice. Director and actor Tom Chown explains his love for Caryl Churchill and how her “lineage of plays throughout her career, from Cloud Nine to shorter and more experimental pieces which last 15 minutes” has always attracted him. It is because of this contemporariness that Tom Chown chose this performance to showcase at The University of Sussex, in partnership with Sussex University Drama Society (SUDS). Jack who will be playing the father in the piece, enjoys the contemporary element of it too, where there is little to no staging and as actors, he says: “there is nowhere to hide”.
Caryl Churchill’s A Number, depicts an eerie world where the protagonist, Bernard, discovers that he is one of many clones. Although the Bernards are physically identical, their personalities showcase their extreme diversity and puts into question his relationship with his father, Salter.
When I met these two performers to see their rehearsal on Wednesday I was amazed to learn that Tom had only stepped in last Friday to fill the shoes of an actor who suddenly stepped down. Their performance was extremely compelling, and showcased their acting prowess. The script is filled with difficult fast-paced dialogue which the performers enacted seamlessly. This rapid-fire interchange between the two actors had a crescendo effect that resulted into a frenzy. Chilling.
I was curious to know what their inspirations were for the characters they were portraying – especially the array of clones that Tom had to embody – a range of personas that depended on which Bernard was being enacted. His response was interesting; he explained for instance that he sees “Bernard II as a well-mannered but philosophical student, with a stereotypical mind-set” – in a way, these multiple identities do not escape the categorical realm.
Identity politics is a very pertinent issue in our current society and A Number adds to this discourse through the idea of cloning. Tom goes on to say that a critical reason for why he thought this play was an excellent pick to perform was because “somehow it is so close to our reality, yet it still seems like such a distant future”. This supernatural play explores how scientific advancements will affect our future personal and public life. The production is an enquiry into how we interact as social beings when identity is fragmented.
A Number sheds light on the darker elements of human nature; fans of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror ought to be satisfied with this unnerving performance. This intimate piece of theatre explores a perplexing, unsettlingly circular narrative, and promises to make you question what makes us human.
A Number will be performed in the Debating Chamber in Falmer House. Performances begin at 7:30pm on Thursday 2 November and Friday 3 November.
Featured Image: Jamal Johnson