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Francesca Annis, Ron Cook, and Deborah Findlay Bring Their Children to Broadway

After an engagement last year at the Royal Court Theatre, three West End veterans return to Broadway in a new play by Lucy Kirkwood.

Francesca Annis, Ron Cook, and Deborah Findlay didn't hesitate to sign on the dotted line when they were given the opportunity to come to Broadway with The Children.

This trio of English actors, West End and Broadway vets all, starred in the Royal Court Theatre's 2016 premiere of Lucy Kirkwood's postapocalyptic drama, and all of them felt like they had unfinished business with it. "We all felt like we wanted to experience it some more," Findlay said.

For the New York engagement, presented by Manhattan Theatre Club at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, Kirkwood has continued to refine her script — about three old friends, also former nuclear scientists, who must make a crucial decision after the explosion of a power station — and director James Macdonald has found ways for his cast to go even deeper than they had before. That Annis, Cook, and Findlay are as close offstage as they are onstage is icing on the cake.

Francesca Annis, Ron Cook, and Deborah Findlay star in The Children.
(© David Gordon)

What were your thoughts when you first read The Children?
Francesca Annis: I thought it was terrific. I actually read it pretty much like the audience receives it; it kept taking me by surprise, even the ending.

Ron Cook: You never know which direction Lucy is going to go. You really don't know what you're watching when you're in the audience, which is exciting.

Deborah Findlay: We were involved with its evolution to a certain extent. The workshop process was absolutely fascinating to be a part of — and has continued here. Lucy came over for the four weeks of rehearsal, and things changed again, partly to make it more accessible to an American audience but also fine-tuning it for herself.

Was there any hesitation on your part to come back to the play after a year break where you went on to other projects?
Deborah: I think we all wanted to experience it some more.

Ron: It was an unfinished work.

Francesca: It was actually marvelous having the year off. It gradually sifts through you, and when you come back to it, you rediscover and find new things. If we had carried on straight from London, we might have just been repeating what we had done. That's a tribute to Lucy's writing, that you want to go on exploring. You don't feel that about all plays.

Deborah: It has helped that the play is about three very old friends, and we did it a year ago, and we're now in New York, just the three of us.

Ron Cook, Deborah Findlay, and Francesca Annis star in The Children, directed by James Macdonald, at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre.
(© Joan Marcus)

Tell me about the rediscovery process for this engagement.
Ron: James Macdonald, our wonderful director, has re-looked at every line.

Francesca: I was surprised by how many little twists and turns I saw in lines that I hadn't seen before.

Deborah: I'm still finding them. It's extraordinary.

Francesca: The humor here is different. American audiences are more voluble and out there in expressing themselves. The English, I'm generalizing, maybe have a greater sense of irony. Americans on the other hand, if you let them know a laugh is coming up and you deliver, they love that. It's a bit more like farce, actually. They enjoy seeing it coming.

Ron: It's very funny, but not in a slapstick way. It's witty, but Lucy is tackling serious subjects at the same time. She's an extraordinary writer.

Deborah: Some people think, "Oh my god, is it going to be a science lesson?" But these are three normal people who happen to be physicists and engineers.

Ron: It's about many, many things. And we discover more of them as we do it.

Francesca: It's extraordinary how much she packs into an hour and 40 minutes. The relationships, politics.

Ron: Old age.

Francesca: And she's not at all patronizing to these older people. There are some new plays about old people, and you always end up either being incontinent or having Alzheimer's, all the negative things. That isn't in this play at all. They're active, intelligent, up-there people.

How much do you think you know about nuclear science at this point?
Francesca: That's one of the fun parts of being actors. All good productions bring in experts, and you suddenly think you've become the expert in this field. You're under the illusion that you actually understand it.

Deborah: A nuclear scientist came in, which was very interesting. We saw lots of tapes about Fukushima.

Ron: We researched Fukushima. The play is not based on it, but that's where the idea started.

What is the most rewarding part about the way the play is being received on Broadway?
Ron: I don't want to give it away, but there are some lines where there's a thick, palpable silence. It's hard to describe. You say a line and you feel—

Deborah: It landing in their consciousness.

Ron: They're trying to work it out. That's an extraordinary feeling.