Through the mirrored lenses of mental illness and delectable absurdity, Peter Hamilton takes us to his Playground— an effortless exploration of existentialism within the confines of involuntary restraints: simply put, the play is an out-in-out head trip. Within the context of serial killings, arrested development, people abused with drug treatments and (in)equality of the commune, Playground invites us on a journey into the perceptions and pursuits of (un)happiness.
Key to the Fringe success of Playground is the informed, intelligent ensemble cast. When Danny (Richard Fish) beckons a journey via his mental challenges we follow, disarmed by the implied frailty; Bella (Sarah Quist) eerily navigates through song then circumstance, and we relinquish the path; as Inspector Mitchell (Dan Maclane) proposes to solve the troubles, we recognise the uneasy misgivings of trusting authority; as Deputy Inspector Birch (Christopher James Barley) shrewdly & skillfully reveals his stratified personalities — from whimsical schoolboy to undercover coquette to lamenting public servant — we’re reminded of the perils of identity; while Stuart (Simon Every) reveals himself, we are challenged with the societal perversion of innocents; and finally with Carolyn (Josie Ayers) we return to an uneasy home with the teacher/librarian/neighbour we once loved, but didn’t bother to save from ostracism. Of special delight at last nights’ performance, was stand-in actor Matilda Kime reading the part of Tamsin on-book, who used her pages as intended props with precision — very much in favor of the abstract world of the play. “Why should you have to do something with your life?” indeed.
Sound heavy? To the contrary, the pièce de résistance of Playground is the acerbic wit — we’re compelled to laugh at the most special of needs — giving the audience a precarious precipice on which to engage. Political Correctness discarded, with a purpose. The stage direction avoids heavy-handedness and overstatement supporting the twisted atmosphere. The strongest part of Playground is in the presentation but quick abandon of obvious, trite storylines — in this case melodramas of love, or cheap coincidence fall on the sadistic sword of dramatic savvy. And Thank God a new avant garde is emerging to challenge the prescription-drug status quo before we lose another generation of misfit toys to Ritalin. The play is alive, and thankfully in a theatre, with people — as opposed to celluloid projected on a wall to die.
A progressive work in progress, I look forward to the next incarnation of this collaborative project, where the spirits of Brecht and George Bernard Shaw might soon be inclined to accept an invitation for a tea in this brave new valley of dolls. In terms of a subject still considered taboo — because we awkwardly laughed, we learned. Theatre, about the (supposed) brain-dead for a thinking audience — a welcome role reversal.
Playground, Clockschool Theatre Company, at The Old Red Lion Theatre through 7 November. For more info: Old Red Lion Theatre.