Adult Children at LFF Expanded – review
The show is created by Donmar Warehouse, in association with English Touring Theatre, Scanlab Projects and Trial and Error Studio
An estranged daughter drives half way across the country in a pandemic just to look at her aged mother through a window; a young father struggles with solo parenthood; an eerily child-like yet mature voice talks with a subtle air of challenge through the meaning of a home and what happens in there; a harried young mum listens to her friend's sexual exploits with a mixture of exasperation and envy; an audience gathers to watch a play… Adult Children packs a lot of relatable, current, engrossing stuff into its 16 minutes playing time: despite the brief duration it feels like a real journey, melancholic and insightful.
Yet it's not actually "real" at all, at least not in the sense of live theatre. For this co-prod between the Donmar, English Touring Theatre, ScanLAB Projects and Sacha Ware's new Trial and Error Studio is, as well as being a smart, poignant collage of a script, co-written by award winner Ella Hickson, a virtual reality experience, watched on headsets and listened to on headphones. It begins and ends in an astonishingly vivid 3D recreation of the Donmar auditorium but characters and objects – trees, a car, a bench, a roll of toilet paper – materialise out of thin air then disappear just as quickly. The visual aesthetic is akin to watching technical drawing come to life, at once recognisable and abstract.
Similarly, the actors involved, all filmed separately from each other, offer forensically detailed, realistic performances (Jodie McNee is particularly affecting as a lost young woman searching for connection in an increasingly bewildering modern world) but their images flicker and sputter as if to suggest the ephemeral nature of our existences. Gareth Fry's spatial sound design is remarkable and would work all by itself, even without the oddly haunting visuals. The sound of trains overhead occasionally permeates through the headphones but actually adds to the sense of foreboding and dislocation.
A rueful, contemplative response to the last nineteen months, Adult Children is technically astonishing and emotionally accurate. It's well worth checking out, although I'd maybe advise anybody who suffers from claustrophobia to approach with caution as the combination of mask, goggles and headphones may feel a little oppressive. For everybody else though it's fleet and thrilling, just remember to look alongside, above and behind you!