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Review – Playtime – Hope Street Theatre

THE arrival of a play by Oliver Back happily seems to have become a cue for sold out houses, and any audience who has seen previous examples of his writing will know that they are in for something off the wall. Playtime is no exception. This tight 50 minute work mixes edgy black humour with striking imagery, keeping the viewer on the edge of the seat from start to finish.

We open on a stage that appears to depict every parent’s nightmare – the aftermath of a child’s birthday party. Into the scene arrive Tango and Tiffin (Isobel Balchin and Michael Irvine-Hall) and suddenly we are transported to something far more dystopian. Grubby and bloodied, the pair seem to be like children trapped in adult bodies, a theme which grows as the play develops. The arrival of Val, played by Geraldine Moloney Judge, riding a child’s trike, and the almost shaman-like Comet (Joseph McGee) throws the situation into a yet more surreal gear, and the work eventually reaches critical mass when the faux gentry of Melton and Somersby enter the fray, played by Ross Brodie and Mary Savage.

There’s a sense of Ballard’s High Rise meeting Macilwraith’s Anniversary in the blend of hellish darkness and acid comedy, and the text offers all the cast opportunities for powerful individual performances, with particular note going to Balchin who never drops the ball for a second. Director Emma Turner keeps everything pressing forwards and has her cast holding the pent-up tension like coiled springs.

In the final analysis Playtime is, in a way, a ghost story, in which all the characters are haunted by the emotional damage they have accumulated in their lives. It’s a play about sorting through the baggage we carry and then letting it go.

Star rating: 4 stars

Review by Nigel Smith


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