Pros: Good ensemble performances with alot of witty lines
Cons: No dramatic tension or proper character development, with a subplot which felt irrelevant.
The set of Playground is a climbing frame made of scaffolding which surrounds an astroturf floor. The piece is set in the London Borough of Bow. It’s here that Stuart (Simon Every), a part-time painter and decorator, first meets the posh Tamsin (Laura Garnier). Tamsin is a naive would-be communist, full of revolutionary dogma. ‘I’d like to be a member of the working class. I’d like to show solidarity with the poor and the oppressed’ she claims early on. Stuart, awed by her physical appearance, apologises when he inadvertently swears, but she dismisses his fears: ‘I respect the coarse language of the proletariat.’
Both Stuart and Tamsin are patients in a psychiatric hospital. Though as she repeatedly insists, Tamsin is only there on a voluntary basis. In this playground they meet the socially awkward Danny (Richard Fish), and the suicidal Carolyn (Josie Ayers). The activity which brings them all together is Danny’s suggestion of setting up a book club. While Carolyn is fascinated by military history, Danny insists that they study the books of Enid Blyton. For this is the reading matter proposed by their psychiatrist as part of their treatment. Danny actually escaped the confines of the institution ten years earlier. ‘I haven’t had a tablet for 15 years, and I’m feeling my head slowly coming alive again’ he says, but Enid Blyton still captivates him and therefore brings him back.
Blyton’s novels dominate the play, both figuratively and literally. Four huge painted reproductions of her book covers form the backdrop to the stage. Her books also play a part in the investigations of Detective Inspector Mitchell (Dan MacLane) and his partner Detective Constable Birch (Christopher James Barley). A copy of one of her novels, open to page 100, is found next to the bodies of each of the decapitated children whose abduction and murder form the subplot to the play.
This subplot feels bizarre and largely irrelevant. However, without it’s presence, there would be, really, no plot at all. The piece consists of a series of conversations and monologues during which the audience get to know the characters and their backgrounds a little. However, nothing really happens. Mitchell and Birch wander in and out, occasionally mentioning the case they’re supposedly investigating. Birch occasionally displays his physical prowess on the play frame but we learn nothing of either of them as characters. Other than their mutual, repressed desire. A desire that’s exacerbated when Birch, for reasons not fully explained, spends the second half of the play in a twinset and pearls impersonating Margaret Thatcher.
There is good deal of humour in the play though. Most of it comes from Tamsin’s childlike political views. ‘You must be very creative,’ says Stuart, to which she replies: ‘Everyone’s creative. It’s democracy.’ The scenes are punctuated by a solo rendering of Oranges and Lemons performed by Izzy (Sarah Quist), who turns up late in the play, as the proprietor of the park’s cafe.
The small cast do their best with a witty, if meandering script, but the real problem with Playground is its complete lack of dramatic tension. Nothing actually happens during the play. None of the characters really develop, and none of the relationships rise above a superficial level. The gruesome subplot feels like an irrelevant sideline, and even its lacklustre denouement takes place offstage. The epilogue features a wholly different character to the rest of the play, which forms an awkward and unconvincing finale. Unfortunately, this is a play which seemingly has little to say, yet it takes a couple of hours to say it.
Author: Peter Hamilton
Director: Ken McClymont
Producer: Clockschool Theatre
Booking until: 7th November
Box Office: 0844 412 4307
Booking Link: http://www.oldredliontheatre.co.uk/playground.html