Mosquitoes in the Minerva: overstuffed drama lifted by brilliant performances

Mosquitoes by Lucy Kirkwood, directed by Adam Nichols, Minerva Theatre, Chichester, until Saturday, December 2
Faith Turner and Emma Wright in Mosquitoes (contributed pic)Faith Turner and Emma Wright in Mosquitoes (contributed pic)
Faith Turner and Emma Wright in Mosquitoes (contributed pic)

Warring sisters, attempted infidelity, a missing teenager, worsening dementia, revenge porn, all sorts of simmering resentment… Oh and the Hadron Collider.

EastEnders meets particle physics in Mosquitoes in the Minerva Theatre this week. Plus we’ve got the anti-vaxxing debate, the sidelining of women scientists, assisted dying, chaos theory and the entire future of the planet. Chichester Festival Theatre, putting it rather mildly, describes Lucy Kirkwood’s play as wildly ambitious. You can say that again. It is stuffed, in fact overstuffed, certainly too long but also provocative, funny and brilliantly acted.

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This is kitchen sink drama in the sense that Kirkwood has thrown the kitchen sink at it, and there is no doubt that in attempting to tackle quite so much, the whole thing loses focus. You will wander away wondering just quite what you have watched and why. But equally you will wander away knowing that this is a play that will stay with you.

There is a lovely performance from Annette Holland as Karen, a considerable, if overlooked scientist in her day now facing up to the ravages of time. Excellent too from Will Pattle whose transformation into troubled teenager Luke is completely convincing.

But this is a play which is at its best when it focuses on sisters Jenny (Faith Turner) and Alice (Emma Wright), locked in love and fury, so different in nature and treated so very differently by life. Alice is a scientist in Geneva working on the Large Hadron Collider; Jenny, believing everything she reads on the internet, has refused the MMR vaccine and her baby has died. Alice scathingly describes Jenny as the reason they write “Caution. Hot fluid” on coffee cups; and yet when Alice’s son Luke is at his lowest point, it is Jenny who shows all the emotional intelligence. Theirs is a fascinating relationship teased out by two actors at the top of their game. There is immense tenderness; there is also anger. It's the heart of the play.

But goodness, there are some bonkers decisions made elsewhere. The super-stylised, highly-choreographed slo-mo way the set’s five white building blocks are endlessly wafted around between scenes is beyond silly and does the whole production absolutely no favours.

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Even stranger are the trip hazards positioned around the playing area, a series of very low-level lights, cunningly painted black to leave them all but invisible to the audience as we arrived and left. So very nearly it wasn’t just Hadron that was colliding tonight…