Written and directed by Scott McArdle, Playthings is a coming-of-age, suburban tale of four tangled lives. The show revolves around Lucy and Arnold, a pair of early adolescents who are experimenting with what it means to be in a relationship while also dealing with critical surrounding issues in their own lives.
The play deals with the particularly heavy theme of trauma and the ways in which one copes with all that it entails. Explored in four characters’ narratives, their traumatic events are intertwined with each other’s lives. In a statement by the director, McArdle writes that trauma is “irreversible, incomprehensible, and life changing”. I cannot speak from previous experience, but these effects were evident throughout the show. It brought up the conversation about how such things are dealt with in society; how they can be swept under the carpet and not given the full consideration that they deserve. The psychological impacts of such events can affect an individual over the course of their lifetime, resulting in complicated relationships and mental illnesses. McArdle approaches trauma head on, tackling the beast without blurring any of the consequences.
The lighting and sound direction, done by Scott McArdle and Rebecca Riggs-Bennett, was seamless throughout the show. In my opinion, the key to good lighting and sound direction is like good typography, best when it’s so natural that you don’t notice it. In Playthings, I would have to catch myself out and actually notice the manipulations that were being made because it was so well done. The coupling of red lighting with ominous reverberating sounds in the background aided in intensifying particularly memorable moments of the show. The lighting design was particularly creative, projecting real-time texts and scribbled notes onto the wall, heightening the verisimilitude of Playthings.
Bold and intense, Lucy (Courtney Henri) is sure of herself and finds joy in scaring people. We are first introduced to her as she frightens Arnold with a story about the dead kangaroo that she was privy to as a young child—or so she says. It is here where we discover her morbid fascination with death. Henri’s character was the most complex of the four, her trauma coming to a tumultuous point towards the end of the play. Lucy is wild, a young girl flailing to control the effects of her childhood from spilling out and hurting those she cares for most. Henri is amazing at conveying these sharp, angular moments while contrasting it with those that are softer, more vulnerable and endearing.
Arnold (Daniel Buckle) is an awkward, dorky classmate of Lucy’s who is struggling to find his place in the world. His puppy love for Lucy is sweet and sensitive, like something out of a teen rom-com movie. What is so likeable about Arnold is his good-natured heart. At first, this may be mistaken for being soft and easily manipulated, but it reveals itself to be strength when he stands up for what he thinks is right in his first fight. Buckle is made for the character, pulling it off so convincingly that one would think that he is indeed a hormone fuelled, head over heels, innocent young boy in real life.
Peppering the play with comic relief is Lucy’s step-dad, Rhys (St John Cowcher). His character had the audience in peals of laughter with his classic dad comments throughout the show. His conversations with Lucy at the dinner table had everyone groaning as they could completely relate to his eagerness in trying to win over Lucy, despite her giving him one-word responses. But what really makes his character is the juxta positioning of these moments with others that are heartfelt and honest. These convey the complexities of being a parent and their struggles to get their children to open up to them. When you’re caught up in the moment it feels like they have no idea what you’re going through, but as cliché as it sounds, they’ve already been there before.
Miss Richards (Siobhan Dow-Hall) played the young and involved teacher, at times toeing the line between professional and personal. Her character’s climax had the audience completely engrossed and captivated as her demeanour completely changes. Long gone is the playful teacher poking fun at her students and instead a fierce protector erupts from within. Miss Richards is an integral piece of the puzzle, providing humorous remarks about her students—to her students—while also having the foresight to take action before lives are lost. Dow-Hall’s character is put together and sophisticated while also revealing the ordinary side of teachers, bringing back the focus to the fact that everyone is human.
Poignant yet satisfying, the ending of Playthings is reassuring in the fact that trauma can be dealt with and slowly healed with the help of others. It reinforces that having a shoulder to cry on, a hand to hold, and someone to hug is sometimes just what we need. This vulnerable moment was, for me, one of the best moments of the show.
Never have I encountered the sentence “kiss me or I’ll stab you” in my life but in this play, it makes perfect sense. Playthings is an important production, dealing with dark themes and troubled characters whose issues are never resolved—and doing so with a hefty dose of humour for good measure.
Playthings is running until November 23rd @ the Blue Room Theatre.
For tickets and more information, visit their website.