Monday, 28 January 2013

Gruesome Playground Injuries - review

Written by: Miranda Blazeby (@MirandaBlazeby)

The Gate Theatre, London

The Gate has become well known for being a small venue that consistently stages big productions. Gruesome Playground Injuries is no exception and eventually leaves us feeling as raw, battered and bruised as the characters themselves.

Photo: Ludovic des Cognets
The stage is small and omits a neon, clinical glow reminiscent of a scientific lab used for experiments. It stretches diagonally, splitting the audience in two who awkwardly observe each other through the gap of the stage before the production begins. The two characters of Doug and Kayleen are present already, one character for each half of the audience. We have Kayleen who stares vacantly ahead, blind to the audience who sit so close to her jiggling feet. This arrangement distinctly recollects mirrors in high profile interviews where a hidden audience watches and listens from behind the glass. But who exactly is under observation here? Us or them?

Photo: Ludovic des Cognets
Perhaps it is the genre of the love story itself and the lengths we have to go to dispel the notion of the perfect or idyllic love story that has been manufactured by Disney and Hollywood for so long. Instead, writer Rajiv Joseph employs all his efforts into creating something unconventional, surprising, and maybe even credible. That being said, for a love story, romance remains decidedly thin on the ground. We begin in the sterile nurse’s office where clumsy buffoon Doug is told, “you’re not accident prone, you’re retarded” by matter-of-fact, sarcastic Kayleen, whose incessant vomiting already hints at deeper psychological problems. Indeed, the most romantic gesture Doug can muster is mixing his ‘throw-up’ with that of Kayleen’s, resulting in a disgustingly messy, vomit cocktail which serves rather well to sum up their relationship. There is no spark, no immediate realisation that they love one another. When Doug finally does get round to admitting that he loves Kayleen, she reveals that she’s living with a long term boyfriend. Similarly, Kayleen’s confession of love is accompanied by the plea “you can’t marry that girl” to the inanimate Doug who lies in a coma after being struck by lightning. They seem stuck together, often apart but always returning to each other, and this habit, which hints more at fate than mutual attraction, is perhaps the most romantic part of their story.

The performances of Mariah Gale as Kayleen and Felix Scott as Doug are extraordinary, lively and raw. They swing with ease between inhabiting bumptious, excitable children to the serious immaturity of teenagers and finally the defeated energy of their oldest, battered selves. Between scenes they laugh and speak quietly to each other as they change clothes or paint themselves with bruises and for a moment we feel as if we are witnessing moments of a relationship which never quite happened. There is no happy ending and it feels as if we’ve finally escaped the love story format where everything must be neatly tidied up so that the audience can go home satisfied. In fact, there is no ending at all. As a result, the question “did you enjoy the play?” is not one easily answered. It is dreadfully sad, organic and wonderfully acted but enjoy it? I don’t know. 

This production runs until 16 February 2013. 

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