The scribblings and sketches of Miriam Gillinson, arts journalist
'Playground' review or 'Remember when child's play was child's play?
'Playground', Peter Hamilton Old Red Lion Theatre, 15th October 2015 Written for Time Out
Fishy things are happening in Victoria Park. Five kids have been decapitated and an Enid Blyton book has been left on top of each corpse. Welcome to the death of childhood, kiddo. Peter Hamilton’s latest play has been billed as a thriller but it’s actually impossible to classify. ‘Playground’ is part murder mystery but it’s also a social satire, surreal comedy and countless other blurry genres. It’s all a bit of a muddle, but the real mystery is quite what it’s banging on about.
The play unfolds in an eerie (duh) playground, designed by Ken McClymont who also directs. Huge Blyton book covers surround the space and there’s gleaming felt grass and a climbing frame made of scaffolding. It’s a playground straight from the fevered dreams of a kid who’s hit the Calpol bottle a little too hard.
The first scenes are unsettling and oddly amusing. Detectives Mitchell (Dan MacLane) and Birch (Christopher James Barley) introduce us to the details of the case: another kid has been decapitated. Birch swings around the space like a kid at play and it’s all a bit weird. When the interval blackout comes it feels like someone very scary is gently brushing your shoulder.
But that early spookiness is soon lost amid waves of confusion. The prime suspect turns out to be Danny (Richard Fish), a mentally disturbed cleaner with a penchant for Blyton. We also meet mental patients Tamsin (Laura Garnier) and Stuart (Simon Every) and suicidal Carolyn (Josie Ayers). The gang forms a book club and make hideously naive statements. Danny looks like an extra from ‘Rain Man’ and the audience is encouraged to laugh at him and his friends. I’m not really sure why.
Things get weirder. For reasons unknown, Birch dresses up in drag and swings on the scaffolding. Another suspect is randomly introduced and spends a lot of time talking about carrot cake. At some point the murder mystery is solved – and no one really notices. A baffling case indeed.