Nicolas Kent's final production as artistic director of the Tricycle Theatre, a two-part cycle of plays exploring the history of the atomic bomb, opened earlier this week (20 February 2012, previews from 9 February).

First Blast (1940-1992) features plays covering the period from the first year of the Second World War to the break-up of the Soviet Union and the unilateral disarmament of Ukraine. Second Blast (1992-2012) takes a contemporary look at the non-proliferation debate, the “axis of evil” speech and its aftermath and the current negotiations with Iran.

The Tricycle has commissioned contributions from playwrights Lee Blessing, Ryan Craig, John Donnelly, David Greig, Elena Gremina, Amit Gupta, Zinnie Harris, Ron Hutchinson, Diana Son and Colin Teevan.

The Bomb continues until 1 April 2012.

Michael Coveney

“The sharpest play, by David Greig, proposes the hilarious reality of a newly incumbent Prime Minister (Belinda Lang) writing the famous ‘letter of last resort’ … Her foil is a mollifying civil servant played to perfection by Simon Chandler … There’s a Shavian tonality about Amit Gupta’s take on India’s philosophical debate about building nuclear reactors, with Paul Bhattacharjee’s innovative professor movingly ceding his position of authority to a protégé (Tariq Jordan) … What is the point of nuclear weapons if you don’t use them, or hide behind them as a deterrent? This debate is slyly threaded through all of the plays … Diana Son writes a witty background to the axis of evil, and hatred, as nuclear power fades into international terrorism. The whole evening becomes a terrifying resume of what we have become with our learning and our scientific progress: it’s a truly global warning. There’s a very good integration of historic footage and newsreel – design, video, lighting and sound bouquets to Polly Sullivan, Douglas O'Connell, Howard Harrison and Tom Lishman – and a special nod to actors Michael Cochrane, Shereen Martin, David Yip and Simon Rouse who find light and shade in a medley of quick-fire performances.”

Charles Spencer
Daily Telegraph

“On Kent’s long and distinguished watch, the Tricycle has firmly established itself as the most searching and admirably even-handed political theatre in Britain … The Bomb maintains these high standards. Not all these short plays, with a total running time of five hours, are first-rate, but there isn’t a complete dud among them, and the best pieces are superb examples of powerful one-act drama. We range from Ron Hutchinson’s fine piece about Clement Attlee…to a hilarious black comedy by John Donnelly … Fine plays by Colin Teevan and Ryan Craig … Best of all is David Greig’s superb The Letter of Last Resort … It is at once amusing, moving and thought-provoking, brilliantly encapsulating the paradoxes and terror of mutually assured destruction. Nicolas Kent directs all 10 plays with pace and panache ... Designer Polly Sullivan elegantly conjures a wide range of locations, and Douglas Connell’s video designs prove hugely effective ... The 11-strong cast play a wide variety of roles with flair, with especially strong contributions from Michael Cochrane, Paul Bhattacharjee, David Yip, Simon Chandler, Simon Rouse and Belinda Lang, whose performance as the conflicted Prime Minister in The Letter of Last Resort is especially compelling. One leaves the theatre thrilled, chilled and deeply fearful about what the future may hold.”

Michael Billington
The Guardian

“An astonishing achievement … The brilliant play by David Greig, The Letter of Last Resort … Even if no other play quite matches Greig's, Proliferation illuminates how we got where we are today. I especially liked Ron Hutchinson's Calculated Risk, which shows the secrecy shrouding the 1945 Labour government's development of the atomic bomb … The idea of the nuclear bomb as some kind of status symbol is also wittily pursued in Amit Gupta's Option …If one big idea emerges from the whole cycle, it is that the bomb is an endless source of contradiction … Even more urgently, Ryan Craig's Talk Talk Fight Fight shows how the whole question of whether Iran is developing its own bomb is like the famous Schrödinger's cat experiment in which two separate possibilities exist at the same moment … Some plays are inevitably better than others. I can only say that I emerged, after a long day, admiring the vivid clarity of Kent's production and Polly Sullivan's design, the versatility of an 11-strong cast including Shereen Martin, David Yip and Paul Bhattacharjee, and the heroic ambition of the enterprise. The Tricycle has once again started a debate that our politicians would prefer to suppress.”

Sarah Hemming
Financial Times

The Bomb exemplifies the belief that theatre can tackle such exacting issues with sympathy, humour and urgency … Arranged into two parts or ‘blasts’ … It’s a great way of coming at such taxing material: the range of voices, styles and subjects injects energy and pace … There is thoughtful, intimately focused work too from Amit Gupta, whose play Option offers a study of an Indian scientist (Paul Bhattacharjee, movingly dignified) struggling to hang on to his pacifist principles … Other writers bring bold comic flair to the situations they depict. There’s a sharp satire from Lee Blessing … Meanwhile, John Donnelly contributes a vividly funny black comedy about a poor Ukrainian family trying, ineptly, to sell a left-over Soviet missile to international arms dealers. Best of all is David Greig’s very funny, but chilling drama, in which a future prime minster (Belinda Lang) struggles to write a 'letter of last resort' … Greig picks his way nimbly through the arguments and his ability to sum up both the absurdity and horror of the situation is the highlight of the evening. A versatile cast juggle characters, while Polly Sullivan’s minimal set includes sobering back projections of explosions that quietly underscore the gravity of the debates on stage. Some of the writing is patchy or knotty, but that notwithstanding, this a vivid, serious examination of one of the most pressing issues of our time.”

Henry Hitchings
Evening Standard

Nicolas Kent signs off after 28 years running this gem of a north London theatre with a typically bold and political project … It is a story of secrets and lies, bureaucracy and technical prowess ... The quality of the writing varies, and the production is sometimes too static, but the whole experience is unsettling. John Donnelly's broad and very funny vision of the chaos that followed the Soviet Union's collapse stands out. Ryan Craig's Talk Talk Fight Fight is crisply intelligent. Lee Blessing wittily depicts the arms race as the petty antagonisms animating a gentlemen's club. Most potent of all is David Greig's The Letter of Last Resort, which calls to mind Yes, Prime Minister, yet is also a slippery slice of absurdism. Polly Sullivan's inventive design conjures a string of different locations, and a cast of 11 confidently juggles a variety of roles. Paul Bhattacharjee is especially versatile, there's nimble work from Rick Warden and Daniel Rabin, and Belinda Lang impresses as a bewildered PM coaxed along by Simon Chandler's superbly dry civil servant. The two parts can be seen separately, but savouring them back-to-back enhances their impact. This is a timely attempt to catalyse debate about a subject too often neglected.”

- Amy Sheppard