When we were in London last fall, we tried and failed to get tickets for the play Mosquitoes, produced by the National Theatre. It was the final weeks for the production, and the shows were sold out. It starred Olivia Colman, best known in America as D.S. Ellie Miller in the crime drama Broadchurch and soon to take on the role of Queen Elizabeth in The Crown.
So, I did the next best thing. I bought the book form of the play.
Mosquitoes by Lucy Kirkwood is the story of two sisters, Alice and Jenny. Alice is a physicist working at the CERN Hadron Collider in Geneva, seeking to find the theoretical Higgs boson particle, and her team is on the verge of a breakthrough. The most definitive thing you can say Jenny is that she spends a lot of time on the internet, and especially Google, and she is susceptible to every fad imaginable. One of those fads (or widely believed bit of “fake news”) is that vaccinations cause autism. Jenny believes it, like she believes almost every bit of non-science, and that belief leads to a tragedy.
The sisters couldn’t be more unlike. While they represent two philosophical perspectives of science, they also represent two sisters who love each other but can’t stand each other, or stand each other for very long. Alice’s teenage son Luke and their mother Karen also play significant roles, but this is almost a stereotyped dysfunctional family on several generational levels. And it’s headed for a major conflict.
Kirkwood is an actress, television screen writer, and playwright. Her television shows include Skins (2013), The Smoke (2014), and The Briny (2015). Her plays include Tinderbox or, love amid the liver (2008), NSFW (2013), Chimerica (2014), Hedda (2014), and The Children (2017). She received a degree in English literature from the University of Edinburgh, where she also performed for an improve comedy troupe and wrote for the Edinburgh University Theatre Company. She is writer in residence at the Clean Break Theatre Company.
Mosquitoes is full of references to physics, the work of the CERN collider, and the raft of pseudo-science that exists on the internet. But science is only the filter through which we watch a family in self-destruction, engaged in unthinking actions with serious consequences.
Top photograph: Joseph Quinn as Luke and Olivia Colman as Jenny in Mosquitoes at the National Theatre, London.