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A Number

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A Number is a 2002 play by the English playwright Caryl Churchill which addresses the subject of human cloning and identity, especially nature versus nurture The story, set in the near future, is structured around the conflict between a father Salter and his sons Bernard 1, Bernard 2, and Michael Black – two of whom are clones of the first one


  • 1 Contextual Information
  • 2 Plot synopsis
  • 3 Characters
  • 4 Staging
  • 5 Productions
    • 51 Original production
    • 52 Revivals
    • 53 US premiere
    • 54 LA/OC, California premiere
  • 6 Adaptations
  • 7 References
  • 8 External links

Contextual Information

A Number is an original work published in 2002 in association with the Royal Court Theatre of London[1] The play was written during a time of public debate over the ethics of cloning The cloning of Dolly the sheep, the creation of human embryos at Advanced Cell Technology, and the cloning of a kitten[2] gave rise to controversy concerning possible human cloning

Plot synopsis

A Number is set in the near future where human cloning has become possible, albeit still looked down upon and possibly illegal

Bernard 2 discovers that he is actually a clone of his "brother" Bernard 1, who was sent to a clinical home years before by his father Salter after the suicide of his mother, which left him in a constant state of fear and pain Salter explains that he agreed to a cloning experiment to try again at parenting another version of his son But, unbeknownst to Salter, the doctors had unethically made several more clones Salter decides that they should sue the doctors, which soothes the shaken Bernard 2

In the next scene, angry Bernard 1 visits Salter for the first time since his childhood while Bernard 2 is away He has learned about the clones, and is furious at his father for doing it Salter then admits that the clones were meant to give him another chance at raising Bernard, without any of his many parental mistakes Bernard 1 grows increasingly agitated, before threatening to murder Bernard 2

Later, after Bernard 1 has left, Bernard 2 returns, having met Bernard 1 in the park He has learned the truth about the situation, and now hates Salter for what he has done Bernard 2 decides to leave the country for a while, both to get away from Salter and because he fears that Bernard 1 might try to kill him Salter tries to convince him not to go, or at least to come back soon, but Bernard 2 refuses, saying he needs to go

Some time later, Bernard 1 returns and tells Salter that he followed and killed Bernard 2 after he left the country Salter, stricken with grief, demands to know the details, but Bernard 1 refuses to say anything Bernard 1 then leaves and kills himself, leaving Salter alone Salter then decides to meet the other clones of his son, starting with the one named Michael Black Michael, who never knew Salter, is a happily married maths teacher with three children He is completely undisturbed that he is a clone, and tells Salter that he does not care Salter demands to know more about him, particularly about something personal and unique, but Michael cannot answer Salter then becomes unsatisfied with what Michael can give him


  • Salter: a man in his early sixties, he was married and had one son His wife committed suicide by throwing herself under a train when their son was only two He would raise their son alone, but due to his drinking and the son's issues, he would neglect him and eventually send him away He would then clone his son Bernard 2 in an attempt to try again to be a better father A pathological liar, he attempts to hide the truth of what he's done from his sons
  • Bernard B2: His son, thirty-five, intended clone of his first son, made to replace his original son, Bernard 1 He is very mild-mannered and emotional
  • Bernard B1: His son, forty First and original son of Salter He was a difficult and disturbed child, who Salter sent away when he was 4 He would grow to have an explosive temper and hate Salter for what he did to him
  • Michael Black: His son, thirty-five An unauthorized clone of Salter’s first son He is married with three children, the oldest aged twelve, and is a mathematics teacher


Churchill gives no stage directions and no indication of a setting for the play In the 2002 production, the stage was described by one critic as a “bare blank design” with “no relation to domestic realism” [3] The costumes of the play were as simple as the stage design Salter always wore a rumpled looking suit, sometimes expensive looking, but sometimes not The various Bernards usually wore jeans and a T-shirt, but sometimes a sweatshirt[4]


Original production

The play debuted at the Royal Court Theatre in London on 23 September 2002 The production was directed by Stephen Daldry and designed by Ian MacNeil and featured the following cast:

  • Salter – Michael Gambon
  • Bernard 1, Bernard 2, and Michael Black – Daniel Craig

Lighting was designed by Rick Fisher and Ian Dickinson was the sound designer The play won the 2002 Evening Standard Award for Best Play[5]


The play was revived at the Sheffield Crucible studio in October 2006 starring real-life father and son Timothy West and Samuel West This production later played at the Chocolate Factory in 2010 and at the Fugard Theatre, Cape Town in 2011

The play was revived at The Nuffield Theatre Southampton in February 2014 with John and Lex Shrapnel to huge critical acclaim[6] It transferred to the Young Vic Theatre in June 2015 Zinnie Harris will direct the play at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh in April 2017[7]

US premiere

In 2004, the play made its American debut at the New York Theatre Workshop in a production starring Sam Shepard later played by Arliss Howard and Dallas Roberts

LA/OC, California premiere

In February/March 2009, the play made its Los Angeles/Orange County debut at the Rude Guerrilla Theater Company in a production directed by Scott Barber, starring Vince Campbell and Mark Coyan


A Number was adapted by Caryl Churchill for television, in a co-production between the BBC and HBO Films[8] Starring Rhys Ifans and Tom Wilkinson, it was broadcast on BBC Two on 10 Sep 2008[9]


  1. ^ Churchill, Caryl A Number New York: Theatre Communications Group, 2003
  2. ^ "What Is Warm and Fuzzy Forever With Cloning, Kitty - New York Times" The New York Times - Breaking News, World News & Multimedia 27 Feb 2009 <https://querynytimescom/gst/fullpagehtmlres=
  3. ^ De Jongh, Nicholas "A Number" Evening Standard 27 Sept 2002
  4. ^ Basset, Kate "A Number" Independent on Sunday 29 Sept 2002
  5. ^ Evening Standard Awards Archived October 6, 2010, at the Wayback Machine Retrieved on 8 October 2009
  6. ^ https://wwwtheguardiancom/stage/2014/feb/14/a-number-caryl-churchill-theatre-review-lyn-gardner
  7. ^ Lyceum website
  8. ^ "Uma Thurman, Rhys Ifans and Tom Wilkinson star in two plays for BBC Two" Press release BBC 2008-06-19 Retrieved 2008-09-09 
  9. ^ "A Number" BBC Two Listings BBC Retrieved 2008-09-09 

External links

  • Review of original British productions
  • New York Theater Workshop website for American production
  • Guardian review of Royal Court production
  • Reviews of the 2006 Sheffield revival
  • The New York Times
  • A Number on IMDb

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