Children of the Sun – Art vs. Science vs. Reality

While children starve in the streets and disease sweeps through the town, Protasov (the scientist) focuses on trying to unpick the fabric of life and existence in order to make the world a better place. But how long will it take? Andrew Upton’s version of Maxim Gorky’s Children of the Sun has raised some interesting questions about progression and patience in an unstable society.

We have now become so accustomed to turning on the news in the morning to hear about the latest cuts to education, welfare and NHS that we are facing a strange austerity fatigue. Do we revolt? No. Do we protest? Yes, occasionally…when it directly affects us…if we can be bothered. This play forced me to reflect on some of the tired arguments that are on loop within the arts, science and the media. Children of the Sun is set against a society which is crumbling leaving the disenfranchised masses with no food, no fuel and no future. How long can they wait for scientists and and artists to improve their lives before they lose their patience?

Our protagonist is a scientist who has married well and lives in an impressive house where he can lock himself away from reality. Surrounded by middle class companions his emotionally starved wife, Yelena , who plays second fiddle to his scientific exploits chooses to have an affair with an artist, Vageen. It is an unusual trio but is made stranger by the fact that this house also houses his childhood nanny and his mentally unstable sister, Liza. This weird household is paid visits by rivaling siblings Boris who is hopelessly in love with Liza and Melaniya who desperately besotted with Protasov. The lust and rivalry that ensues is probably the only light hearted thing about this play, and even that is riddled with heartbreak and despair.

Protasov and Vageen have long debates about the virtues of art versus the ideals of science. Liza struggles with their bourgeois discussions and constantly tries to remind everyone that the world outside is changing and that the days of plenty are nearly over. Her screams of reality fall on deaf ears. As it turns out their complicated love-lives, artistic endeavours and scientific advances are not putting food on the plate of the starving masses. Superstition is rife amongst the villagers and when a chemical leak from one of Protosov’s tanks is thought to have poisoned a woman our characters are dramatically dragged into real life and their problems are painfully put into perspective.

Granted the play cannot be directly linked to our present situation, but it should serve as a stark warning to a government that seems to want to play chicken with our quality of life. Children of the Sun brutally demonstrates how unpredictable society can be if there is nothing left to lose.

When it comes to funding new research my preference is for science to get first dibs. I think even my most arty friends would agree that science and medicine is vital for our survival. Since we have been witness to the plentiful nineties and austere noughties I think it is clear that the art thrives when well funded and creates huge revenue for our economy (which seems to have been completely ignored by our philistine of a chancellor) but if funding is cut it can still get by and produce incredible results. With unrelenting support from audiences and an intrigue to learn, art is innate to humanity. Blackshaw is a prime example of this.

– Nick

Children of the Sun by Maxim Gorky in a new version by Andrew Upton. Directed by Howard Davies at The National Theatre, London.

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