Writer: Elin Doyle
Director: Laura Kirman
Guinea Pigs is a striking, heartfelt semi-autobiographical drama written by Elin Doyle, created to mark and highlight the 70th anniversary of Operation Hurricane – Britain’s first nuclear detonation and the cover-up that followed. The story hinges on the relationship between Corral and her father Gerry, which is expertly layered in both the writing and performance with all the complications and depth that a real parent-child relationship encompasses.
Gerry (Jonny Emmett), as a young 19-year old in the 1950s, was hired to help manufacture and test Britain’s first hydrogen bomb in the aftermath of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. Cut to the 1980s where the bulk of the play is set, he has since suffered the physical and mental consequences of the radiation exposure thirty years prior and is still fighting for justice. The apple never falls far from the tree, and now his teenage daughter Corral (Doyle) is discovering her own generation’s version of political activism in second-wave feminism and Greenham Common protests. Sparks, inevitably, fly as CND-adorned Corral struggles to reconcile her father’s participation in making nuclear weapons with the relationship and her own newfound pacifist politics.
Both characters are expertly performed by Doyle and Emmett with a clear sensitivity and respect for the history and real-life people these events affected. They are extremely well-matched on stage, Emmett commands the space with an experienced but tired authority that we instantly recognise as paternal, and Doyle plays the age difference very convincingly as an enthused but naïve teen.
The third performer in this piece is Caron Kehoe, effortlessly switching roles but primarily playing Maureen, sister of Gerry and aunt to Corral, constantly trying to peace-keep. When Kehoe is not playing Maureen, she presents a whole host of world-building characters including a police constable, an English teacher, and a Greenham Common protester. Kehoe delivers every character with a studied nuance in accent, physicality and manner so that they all feel authentically different but, crucially, not caricatures. It is an extremely skilled performance.
Director Laura Kirman uses the space to present a domestic naturalism that the play requires, creating a living room scene that is clearly from the 1980s without feeling gimmick-y. Kirman, chiefly, lets the story simply speak for itself – almost every directorial choice is very well-judged to make something that is unfussy and engaging. Especially considering this is a directorial debut, it is impressive and shows promise.
This play is a piece of politically engaged, collaborative storytelling that clearly comes from a place of autobiographical truth, with familial love and respect at its core. Every element is considered, leaving the audience galvanised into an acute understanding of the injustice that still affects real people living today.
Runs until 8 October 2022