Caryl Churchill’s A Number is set in a world in which human cloning is a reality. It explores the ethics of cloning, the fragility of personal identity and the conflicting claims of nature and nurture. It was first performed at the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Downstairs, London, on 23 September 2002.
The play begins with Bernard (B2), a thirty-five-year-old man, confronting his father, Salter, after making a startling discovery: he is not, as he'd thought, an only child, but just one of a number of clones. Salter explains that, after the death of his son Bernard (B1), he agreed to a cloning experiment to bring his son back, but that (unbeknownst to him) the doctors had unethically made several more clones. Salter decides that they should sue the doctors. But in the next scene, the original Bernard (B1) appears, very much alive. 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. But Bernard (B1) is unwilling to live in a world that contains cloned versions of himself, and his determination to eradicate them leads to tragedy.
The play is written to be performed by two actors: one playing Salter, the other his sons.
In the original Royal Court production, directed by Stephen Daldry and designed by Ian MacNeil, Salter was played by Michael Gambon and his sons by Daniel Craig.
A Number received its American premiere at New York Theatre Workshop in December 2004, directed by James Macdonald, with Sam Shepard as Salter and Dallas Roberts as his sons.
It was revived in the UK at the Sheffield Crucible in October 2006, directed by Jonathan Munby and starring real-life father and son, Timothy and Samuel West. This production later played at The Menier Chocolate Factory, London, in 2010 and at the Fugard Theatre, Cape Town in 2011.
A television movie adaptation by the BBC and HBO Films starring Tom Wilkinson and Rhys Ifans was first broadcast in September 2008.