Review: Nuclear Children, Pleasance Courtyard (Attic), Edinburgh ★★☆☆☆

Photo: Alex Brenner

by Natalie Evans

Written and performed by Ezra England, Nuclear Children is a casual comedy exploring grief, family, and fruit. Following protagonist Isla’s journey after the death of their father, we see the effect that this event has had on both their relationships, with others, themselves, and with their view of the world.

There was a lovely poetry to the script, with a crystal clear narrative and very carefully curated word-play. However, it felt very long for what was in fact only a 50 minute piece. Dark comedies are always difficult to pull off due to the juxtaposition it depends on, but for me, a successful dark comedy has me laughing at morbid events, bringing light to truly bleak circumstances in which it is probably entirely inappropriate to be making jokes – Martin McDonagh’s writing being the prime example of this style. So, though I could identify the moments that Ezra England was aiming for this effect, the tone and timing of the delivery unfortunately just wasn’t quite right, meaning the jokes often didn’t land amongst the audience. Therefore, rather than laughing along with Isla when they were joking about their trauma, we just felt sad.

Right from the beginning, the energy of the piece was lower than I would have expected from a single actor performance. To be able to engage with one person for a full hour, I personally needed to be kept on my toes a little more. Even though the plot of the play was incredibly interesting and original, I found myself waiting for the absurdity. From the set design of a tilted set of bright yellow treads and a sea blue backdrop that were obviously representative of the submarine that the lead character Isla’s father tragically died in, I was expecting the rest of the production to match this vibrancy, but instead the performance was absolutely naturalistic. Even when Isla was describing the truly bizarre visions she was experiencing as a result of her grief-induced psychosis, she very quickly returned to her state of calm, subtle expression.

Where I found that the production shone was in the supporting characters, all of course still portrayed by the same actor. The specificity of the characterisation of each person that entered Isla’s story was excellent. My personal favourite was the eccentric Chelsea flatmate as despite her unusual interests, she still felt like a familiar and fully fledged personality.

Nuclear Children is on at the Pleasance Courtyard (Attic) until 28th August.