Thursday, January 25, 2007

Annabelle Comyn's Number

Dolly the sheep didn't know how lucky she was. Despite being a clone, she did not, as far as we can tell, endure a whirlwind of existential uncertainty, or even ponder momentarily the instability of her own identity. Chances are, when we humans get around to cloning ourselves (or get around to admitting to it) it will be a far more disturbing event for everybody concerned.

Thankfully, before any of us have to deal with our clones in real life, British playwright Caryl Churchill, has been working out some of the problems. Sort of. According to Annabelle Comyn, who follows up her National Theatre debut (directing Joe Penhall's Blue/Orange) with Churchill's play, A Number, there are also a lot of other issues at stake.

"I think what is really at the heart of the play is how we value each other," says Comyn. "The play is particularly concerned with parent-child relationships, a father and a son in this case, and that is very interesting for me…"

"The problem is not that there are clones. Because there is no reason at all why hundreds of clones shouldn't get to feel complete and loved. The problem comes when people are not loved or valued properly…which is what we see in the play."

In the play, Salter the father (played by Michael Gambon in the original Royal Court production and played in Dublin by Alan Williams) is forced to confront what exactly has gone into making each of his cloned sons individual.

The job for Stuart Graham, who plays the sons (the roles were brilliantly played at the Royal Court by Daniel "Bond" Craig) is to conjure up a cohort of characters who are identical, but very different. Did that present particular problems when rehearsing the play?

"Well, we didn't concentrate on how we would make them different, we just treated each of them as a different character and I think that worked," says the director.

Directing the play has been an ambition for Comyn for several years. "I wanted to do the play myself for some time. But I couldn't get permission to do it with my own company, Hatch." Then, as luck would have it, came an invitation to direct A Number at the Peacock.

Finally having the chance to work on the play has not, all the same, cleared up all the issues around cloning for Comyn. But at least now she must know the answer to the big question:

"Actually, I don't really know if I would clone myself. There are so many issues around it that I'd have to think about it more…but I suppose if I had to decide now, it would be "no".

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