Olivia Colman and Olivia Williams in Mosquitoes

Review of Mosquitoes starring Olivia Colman at the National Theatre

Will Longman
Will Longman

Siblings disagree, they bicker, they argue. Lucy Kirkwood's new play Mosquitoes launches Olivia Colman and Olivia Williams together and sees what happens when they collide.

It's set in 2008 as particle scientist Alice (Williams) is gearing up for the culmination of eleven years of work: the activation of the Large Hadron Collider. She's the gifted daughter of a celebrated academic, and this is her big moment.

At her home in Geneva, her sister Jenny (Olivia Colman) is waiting for her. On passing through duty free at Luton Airport, she picked up 4 bottles of spirits and a bulk packet of Silk Cut. She spends a lot of time in her flat reading studies about Diet Coke giving you cancer, and Googling why MMR jabs lead to brain cancers in children.

The latter of those two becomes a reality. She's visiting Alice weeks after burying her daughter Amy, and during the first half, you witness the explosive breakdown of a mourning mother. Colman plays the part perfectly. Her heart-wrenching performance of this naïve woman is one you can't take your eyes off. Kirkwood's sincere dialogue is in safe hands, but Colman delivers the play's most comic moments.

Williams, too, is devastating as Alice - a woman who is trying to hold her family together. Her son, Luke (Joseph Quinn, who plays the part with a certain air of Christopher Boone), has run away and is one of the early victims of cruel social media trolling. She's perpetually vexed with her dim sister, and she snaps. She lets logic overpower her seemingly unbreakable commitment to her family.

Rufus Norris' direction captures all the passion and heartbreak of family fallout. There are one or two very uncomfortable scenes to watch, but there are also some real moments of wonder in this production.

Katrina Lindsay's clinical set transforms the Dorfman into a particle collider, together with Finn Ross and Ian William Galloway's encapsulating video designs. At times it feels like you are sat inside a proton. At others, it makes you feel like the world could end at any moment, together with Paul Hilton's fantastical lectures on the apocolypse.

You don't have to be a rocket scientist to be drawn in to Kirkwood's powerful family drama. The plot can verge on the unbelievable, and some key details seem skimmed over, but it's a thoroughly enjoyable play. If you're lucky enough to have a ticket, you won't be disappointed.

Mosquitoes runs at the National Theatre.

Originally published on

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