7 September 2023
We’re all about promoting the voice of youth and providing a platform for young people to share their experiences and develop their critical voice through our Ambassadors program. The views expressed are those of the writer and do not reflect the views of Canberra Youth Theatre or its staff.
Jade Breen, one of our 2023 Ambassadors, reviews the Chaika Theatre production of The Children by Lucy Kirkwood at ACTHUB, Kingston.
Two retired nuclear scientists lead a peaceful life in an isolated cottage by the sea. Haunted by past
disaster they intend to live forever on yoga and the fragile hope that their Geiger counter will remain
quiet. That is until an old friend arrives, resurfacing the responsibility of a choice the two hoped to
lose in the past.
It is productions like Chaika Theatre’s recent work that leave me speechless as the audience files out,
searching for words I’ll never quite grasp after the momentum of a play like The Children. Beginning
in the mundane, a sparse domestic set greets the audience, a comforting, homely setting allowing full,
unwavering focus on the three actors. The simple design resourcefully uses the space at the hub,
working in a beautiful synthesis with the buildings preexisting architecture. This design choice assists
in grounding the production in a certain reality and relevance that a simple black box theatre may
As for the cast, Karen Vickery as Hazel, Michael Sparks as Robin, and Lanie Hart as Rose, can be
described as nothing less than an absolute powerhouse of an ensemble. Each performer celebrates a
long history of iconic and provocative roles, but when the skill and prowess of the three combines, the
result is a spectacle not to be missed by any theatre goer. A particular highlight of the characterisation
was the constant conflict between Vickery and Hart. The two women oscillate between generous
hospitality, and ruthless deconstructions of the other, providing a wonderfully fulfilling feminist
subtext to the piece. The choice between motherhood and work, even age debates alone were
incredibly insightful, the stakes rising exponentially when the audience learns of Rose and Robin’s
past relationships. Both performers executed this dialogue seamlessly, and this theatrical lens of the
female experience was a highlight of the work for me. Sparks too delivers a wonderful performance as
Robin, providing a playful, childish tone to the underlying action, and subsequently breaking hearts at
the discovery of his true intentions behind returning to the power station.
Tony Knights engaging presentation of Kirkwood’s text has brought a refreshing resonance and
urgency to a historically long and hard to digest piece of theatre. Despite the duration of the piece, I
felt hooked on every word, every action, each character’s individual nuances. Knight has created such
an intimate personal relationship between the audience and the characters, inviting each member in
the theatre to think and feel along with the narrative. At times I felt my presence almost intrusive,
being so completely immersed in the lives of these characters, so central to their conflicts and inner
The polarising humour and drama become quite confronting at times, and the creatives behind Chaika
should be commended for not shying away from such weight within their work. I felt my heart drop as
Rose makes her dramatic request, before giggling away at the hilarious dance number towards the
end. As a young person it was refreshing to see topics of terminal illness, and nuclear power discussed
so openly by older characters. The themes and conclusion to the play give me hope that the future can
be one of accountability and action by older generations, a reality I am grateful to Knight and Chaika
Theatre for realising.
Jade Breen is a proud nonbinary artist with experience in theatre, film, and circus. Their favourite roles include Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird (Canberra Rep 2019), Flounder in The Little Mermaid (Ickle Pickle 2020), and Gillian in Dags (Canberra Youth Theatre 2022). Aside from theatre, Jade has recently dived into filmmaking, their short film She/…They? winning best under 18 and best student film at the Lights Canberra Action film festival. For years now, Canberra Youth Theatre has become their second home and they have loved the opportunity to develop their craft amongst such a passionate and committed group of young people.