Theatre, Drama
4 out of 5 stars
5 out of 5 stars
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© Brinkhoff/Moegenburg Olivia Colman, Yoli Fuller
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© Brinkhoff/Moegenburg Olivia Colman, Olivia Williams
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© Brinkhoff/Moegenburg Olivia Colman, Yoli Fuller
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© Brinkhoff/Moegenburg Amanda Boxer, Cait Davis
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© Brinkhoff/Moegenburg Amanda Boxer, Olivia Colman
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© Brinkhoff/Moegenburg Joseph Quinn
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© Brinkhoff/Moegenburg Joseph Quinn, Olivia Williams
 (© Brinkhoff/Moegenburg)
© Brinkhoff/Moegenburg Joseph Quinn, Olivia Williams
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© Brinkhoff/Moegenburg Olivia Colman
 (© Brinkhoff/Moegenburg)
© Brinkhoff/Moegenburg Olivia Colman, Amanda Boxer, Yoli Fuller
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© Brinkhoff/Moegenburg Olivia Colman, Joseph Quinn
 (© Brinkhoff/Moegenburg)
© Brinkhoff/Moegenburg Olivia Colman, Olivia Williams
 (© Brinkhoff/Moegenburg)
© Brinkhoff/Moegenburg Olivia Colman,Joseph Quinn, Olivia Williams
 (© Brinkhoff/Moegenburg)
© Brinkhoff/Moegenburg Olivia Williams, Olivia Colman
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© Brinkhoff/Moegenburg Olivia Williams, Olivia Colman
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© Brinkhoff/Moegenburg Sofia Barclay, Joseph Quinn
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© Brinkhoff/Moegenburg Yoli Fuller, Olivia Williams

Olivia Colman and Olivia Williams star as sisters in this wildly ambitious new play from Lucy Kirkwood

There’s a scene in Lucy Kirkwood’s new play in which the entire universe ends. Now, you’ll have to take it on faith that that’s not much of a spoiler. But it is a fairly solid example of one way in which ‘Mosquitoes’ almost laughably transcends its trad set up of a drama about two bickering sisters.

Nonetheless, it is a drama about two bickering sibs, one a success, the other a fuckup. Most of the fun in this often very funny play comes from the clash and spark between Olivia Colman’s disintegrating bundle of contradictions Jenny and Olivia Williams’s sensible-ish Alice, a scientist working to discover the secrets of existence at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. They’re not the most plausible characters in the world, but the damage, warmth and codependency between them feels true. It is a drama of huge ideas – the need for logic and irrationality, faith and science, to co-exist together; the idea of love as a physical bond to the universe – married to an almost soapy, melodramatic plot. But the writing and the lead performances are strong enough to sell it to us. Colman, in particular, has an easy, give-no-fucks charisma that doesn’t make Jenny a more realistic character, but does make her a tremendously enjoyable one.

Plot-wise, it’s substantially set in Geneva, where a boozy Jenny is attempting to get over a devastating personal tragedy by foisting herself on her sister and her awkward teen son Luke (Joseph Quinn) – both of whom are still haunted by the disappearance of Luke’s dad, years ago. Also in tow is their mother Karen (Amanda Boxer, very amusing), an even more brilliant scientist than Alice, who enjoys cheerily pointing out her daughters’ flaws, but may be on the cusp of physical and mental decline.

Kirkwood lobs so much in that it’s often hard to stay on top of it all. It’s not so much that the plot is overegged – though it kind of is – but that the tone rarely settles down. In particular the collision between glib, sassy humour and bleak personal tragedy feels awkward: it never has the emotional heft it might if left to breathe a bit, and perhaps even feels a bit callous. It’s a domestic drama done at the scale of Kirkwood’s globetrotting thriller ‘Chimerica’, which is kind of ridiculous, but again, ‘Mosquitoes’ carries it off, in no small part thanks to Rufus Norris’s big, brash direction. Full of projected galaxies and cosmic cacophony, he attacks ‘Mosquitoes’ like an action movie, and it’s tough enough to handle it.

The author’s elegiac recent Royal Court hit ‘The Children’ shared some similar concerns, though it was a stronger play, and at least as smart. But under these lab conditions – in this theatre, with this cast and this director – this younger sibling is nearly its equal. Like the universe itself, it’s sometimes hard to see exactly how or why ‘Mosquitoes’ works – but it does.

'Mosquitoes' is sold out at the National Theatre but day-seats and Friday Rush tickets will be available throughout the run.

Average User Rating

4.8 / 5

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Visually stunning with an addictive and thought-provoking story and two stunning central performances from the Olivias. Covering everything from particle physics to motherhood, it's a romp with laughs and tears along the way. 

Sublime theatre- the incredible Olivia's are both at the top of their game giving Jenny & Alice real poignancy amid the pathos. Actually all cast members are exceptional & the actor who plays Alice's son is brilliant at depicting a socially awkward teen. The grandmother had the best one liners which were delivered with relish! I love Lucy Kirkwood- I find her plays intelligent, thought provoking, humorous & hugely entertaining. The set is fantastic & in this small intimate theatre the atmosphere is electric. It's sold out but well worth queuing for the day returns...


The universe, motherhood, truth, sisterly love and the apocalypse are all themes in Lucy Kirkwood's intriguing "Mosquitoes", a play that acts as the perfect medium to show off the phenomenal talents of Olivia Colman and Olivia Williams.

Centring on these two very different sisters (one a experimental physicist, the other a horoscope-reading sceptic), the play follows the aftermath of a family tragedy. With an already fraught relationship, the two sisters gingerly attempt to navigate these new circumstances, prompting frank conversations and devastating revelations.  

This whole play is anchored by its two leads, the superb Colman and Williams, who perform with such naturalism and intimacy. I was completely entranced by the pair and hope to see them both on stage a lot more in the future. The supporting cast is strong too: Amanda Boxer plays their haughty mother with a flippant cruelty and Joseph Quinn is devastatingly awkward as Luke. 

But being set against the backdrop of the Large Hadron Collider, the play occasionally takes a step out of the domestic home, to look up at the sky. With dramatic staging, effective light projections and sound design, The Boson (Paul Hilton) guides us through the possibilities for the universe's end. These interludes are mostly fine but given the otherwise candid nature of the play, there are moments which feel a bit overblown.

Nevertheless, to see such complex female characters and relationships on stage was a treat, and one that I hope to see more of in British theatre.

National treasure Olivia Colman is stunning in this thought provoking and extremely funny play. What a breath of fresh air to have wonderful new writing in the National and finally a palpable hit after Common and Salome. Hopefully now she has served out her term on the tedious Broadchurch we might see more of Ms Colman on stage. What a joy it must have been for her to revel in this writing after Mr Chibnall's dross and to have reactive and talented costars to interact with after being tethered to the wooden and lumpen Mr Tennant. Let's hope this will mark a revival in the National theatre's fortunes. The only way is up!

Fantastic new writing. Phenomenal script and performances. Olivia Colman is a gem.