Who do you think you are? No, not the popular BBC genealogy programme but what could easily be the subtitle for Carol Churchill’s The Number. Churchill’s two-hander looks at the impact when a son confronts his father after he discovers that far from being unique he is actually one of ‘A number’ of clones. How does Bernard cope when he finds he has been cloned? His father sees it as a case for compensation, seeing his son’s individuality has been compromised by some unknown medical institution. Bernard is less sure and things become more complicated when over time his Father’s story subtly alters and Bernard discovers he may not be the original but one of the copies.
With ongoing advances in medical science it is a timely debate, what are the ethics behind cloning and what would the impact be if the clones become aware of each other or even meet? Churchill’s play is more than a genetic discussion though. A Number also examines how much of our lives are predetermined by genetic make up or how much is down to our upbringing. It’s the classic nature or nurture argument but one made vividly real in this short but gripping piece.
Alongside the ethical debate this is also an examination of paternal relationships and what happens when the parent child trust is eroded. This production, played in the round (a first for the Menier Chocolate Factory) is given extra potency by the casting of real life father and son Timothy and Samuel West. Timothy growing from innocent, confused father into something far darker and sinister. Samuel playing three of the sons, giving each their own unique sense of identity. It is an acting masterclass with as much being said in the pauses and eye contact than in Churchill’s clever script.
Jonathan Munby’s direction sensibly lets the characters take centre stage and allows the audience to draw their own conclusions. This is one of those plays that will keep you thinking long after the 50 minute running time.