Gruesome Playground Injuries

Rajiv Joseph

Gate Theatre

From 22 January 2013 to 16 February 2013

Review by Gerald Berkowitz

Search for tickets

This sweet, delicate and frequently very funny little play touches your heartstrings without insistently yanking at them, and its decorum is much of its charm.

We first meet Kayleen (Mariah Gale) and Doug (Felix Scott) as children in a school nurse's office—she has a dodgy tummy that hints at emotional problems, while he is accident-prone, if by accident you mean riding his bicycle off the school roof in imitation of daredevil Evel Knievel.

In the next eighty minutes playwright Rajiv Joseph and director Justin Audibert will take us through the following decades, not in chronological order, with further scenes in school and then at roughly five year intervals afterwards.

Doug will retain his propensity for body-damaging lapses of judgement (playing with fireworks, standing outside in a lightning storm) while Kayleen's emotional and psychological fragility will become more and more evident.

Throughout, though leading separate lives, they will somehow be there for each other at crisis moments, though an addition to the quiet pathos of the piece is that they will somehow always be just out of sync, taking turns reaching out to each other just as the other is self-protectively closed up.

The story of two damaged people finding each other has been told before, and Joseph's play doesn't quite shake off the shadow of a whole genre of 'heart-warming' movies. 

What sets it apart, aside from the admirable fact that he doesn't force an arbitrary happy ending on the tale, is the delicacy with which he tells it, acknowledging the limitations and occasional ridiculousness of the two characters and never shoving the sentiment in your face.

Director Audibert and his actors capture this delicate touch perfectly, allowing us to come to the characters and the emotions. Mariah Gale wisely keeps Kayleen a little too closed-up and unknowable for her to become a stock tragic heroine, while Felix Scott lets us consider the possibility that Doug is just too dumb to be allowed out by himself (and no less attractive a chap for that).

Lily Arnold's design creates an angled transverse that adds a touch of Caligari-style skew to things, and the director and actors nicely incorporate the several costume changes and painting-on of scars and bruises into the magical reality of the play.