Try as it might, Auckland-based Plumb Theatre couldn't get the rights to stage the play The Children when it wanted to – then, two years on, the world's youth started protesting about climate change and Chernobyl went nuclear (or at least the TV series did).

That's when theatre company founders Paul Gittins and David Aston remembered success is often about timing.

The Children is the kind of erudite, taut and moral-compass swinging story that Gittins and Aston like for its emotional and intellectual engagement. Which perhaps explains why, after its London debut in 2016, the play transferred to Broadway, where it was nominated for a Tony Award, before turning up in Melbourne and Sydney and then Canada picking up major awards and nominations along the way.

Earlier this year, it was at Wellington's Circa Theatre and now, courtesy of Plumb, it's Auckland's turn. As Gittins says, it's had time to craft for itself a formidable reputation while current events have caught up with the issues explored.


Set on the British coast, two retired nuclear physicists Hazel (Carmel McGlone) and Robin (Aston) are enjoying the good life – more or less - when there's a major disaster at a nuclear power station. Enter Rose (Elizabeth Hawthorne) with a question for the couple which throws up all sorts of knotty issues premised round just how seriously we take the idea that children are the future.

It's not a Chernobyl-type situation, but the publicity generated by HBO's drama about the accident at the Soviet nuclear power plant means anything vaguely along those lines is bound to catch attention. Instead, UK playwright Lucy Kirkwood – regarded as a young dramatist on the rise – was inspired by the 2011 Fukushima nuclear explosion.

"Since we decided to do this play and got the rights, the issues in it have become much more topical," says Gittins. "We've seen young people taking to the streets on climate change marches asking our generation what are we doing? What sort of legacy are we leaving behind?

"There's no children in it but it's called The Children because it really is about what we leave to the next generation. There's an incredible dynamism between the three characters and what might appear to start as a kitchen sink style drama quickly becomes a psychological thriller."

McGlone starred in Circa Theatre's version and says she's never repeated a role because, "why would you want to?" But McGlone wanted to because, she says, the quality of Kirkwood's writing and the play itself are incredible.

"I've got a new husband, a new friend and a new director so that makes it different. I think the issues it explores are such an important part of the conversations we're having around the world. As an actor, you sometimes wonder, 'what can I do?' And perhaps the answer is to keep us talking and thinking."

Hawthorne says The Children contains "depth chargers" for people of all generations. It's her second appearance in a Plumb production; she helped launch the company with a stand-out performance in its 2017 debut show, Blonde Poison.

Since then, it's staged Stuart Hoar's Bright Star, about New Zealand astronomist Beatrice Tinsley as part of Suffrage 125.


The Children, Herald Theatre, Tuesday, July 31 – Sunday, August, 18.