Edinburgh University Theatre Company’s production of Mosquitoes tells a story of family contrasts, both socially and geographically. Written by Edinburgh University graduate Lucy Kirkwood (Skins, Chimerica), Mosquitoes unites a number of hefty themes into an accessible and engaging two-and-a-half-hours of theatre.
The plot revolves around two siblings. Alice (Megan Burns) is a high-flying scientist working on the Higgs Boson particle in Geneva, while Jenny (Tilly Botsford) is a sceptical and superstitious health-insurance salesperson living in Luton. Alice’s tech-savvy son Luke (Charlie Woolley) is paranoid about the apocalypse, hates school and worries Alice constantly, while the siblings’ impressive but dominant mother Karen (Katrina Johnstone) sees herself as the head of this disparate family.
One of this production’s greatest strengths is its manipulation of the audience’s emotional response. Genuinely humorous moments are immediately followed by sudden dramatic revelations, while taxing, emotionally-charged events are diffused by welcome levity. The balance of humour and drama is, overall, just right.
Burns expertly portrays the tensions between Alice’s life as a cool-headed scientist and as a member of her chaotic family. Botsford brings to Jenny much more complexity than simply a stereotypical tearaway, while Woolley convincingly portrays Luke’s confusion and teen angst. Johnstone’s portrayal of Karen is particularly strong, succeeding in revealing Karen as a headstrong yet under-recognised professional, with a frustrating but caring approach to her daughters. Karen’s subsequent progression towards dementia is subtly foreshadowed and sensitively delivered by Johnstone. The subtlety of this portrayal makes Karen one of the less obvious, but most poignant, tragic cases in this play.
Some scenes linger a little too long on characters’ back-and-forth conversations, and it occasionally seems that one character is talking over another, making it difficult to locate the scene’s narrative drive. However, the cast’s knowledge of their roles ensures that the play’s hefty themes are delivered in a credible and engaging manner.
The staging makes creative use of limited resources. Inventive projections of digital conversations and scene titles aid plot development, while sound is used effectively to bridge scene changes and signify important moments. A stand-out example of this is when Luke shows Alice a piece of music he has created, which becomes an enchanting moment of sonic motion yet physical stillness. Utilising a more prominent projection set-up would allow these detailed projections to really come to life, while a little polish on the sound effects would bring the production up overall.
Overall, this production of Mosquitoes has heart, and is delivered by a cast that understands how to bring it to life.
Mosquitoes ran at Bedlam Theatre from 5-8 February 2020.
Featured image: Photography by Dominika Ucar, Design by Michael Zwiauer