Do you remember being 13? Finally into your teenage years but still having to navigate the awkwardness of ‘finding yourself’ – whatever that means. It’s a time where all of your relationships are difficult to navigate and you only have one thing on your mind: Homicide.
Playthings draws you into the compelling heat of Australian suburbia and high school life. Playwright Scott McArdle is at his absolute best with this hilarious, dark, and intelligent work that allows trauma to simmer under the surface. It addresses a lot of issues but doesn’t preach and therein lies its genius. McArdle has a great affinity with characters – he opens up entirely different perspectives through clever writing and commonalities – by creating relatable characters, the audience is able to empathise with a type they wouldn’t traditionally notice. Little things like revealing their favourite movies, books, and even Shape flavour (it’s Barbeque btw) may seem an obvious technique, but McArdle deftly creates an entire world with the strongest of foundation – character.
Arnold (Dan Buckle) reveals himself to be more than an introspective 13-year-old awkwardly navigating his way through trauma. Buckle breathes life into Arnold with his gawky, endearing acting and instantly charms the audience. His journey is a true coming of age tale, complete with the epic feeling of everything crushing around him. Arnold speaks to loneliness and what it means to be alone. A latchkey kid, he tries to fly under the radar and for the most part succeeds – until his teacher notices something disturbing in his writing, and he speaks up for himself against a bully, and when the keen eye of the terrifyingly compelling Lucy (Courtney Henry) turns her attention to see within his soul.
Lucy is perhaps the most intriguing character. She reveals herself in layers and to do so here would undermine the elegance of both the writing and the acting. Henry is brilliant in her portrayal of Lucy – fierce, brave, unapologetic but with a darkness surging through her veins. There are scenes that are completely terrifying – especially because they are so plausible. This is what makes Playthings so good – it’s not fantasy, it’s not horror – it’s real and the horror is real. Isolation breeds paranoia, rejection boils over into feelings of inadequacy, hidden traumas refuse to stay buried, and everything that happens could potentially happen in real life. It may seem like Arnold and Lucy’s problems – being alone after school, dealing with a new Step-Dad, not being good enough to write an assignment – are the same as those faced by ordinary school kids, and they are, it’s just that Playthings invites you to delve a little deeper.
St John Cowcher absolutely shines as Lucy’s step-dad. Equal parts nerdy Millennial and goofy Dad, Cowcher nails it. He is so endearing that when Lucy acts out against him, the audience is completely baffled. Cowcher is a natural at the Dad jokes and style of humour. He brings a lightness to the sometimes heavy plot and yet also gets his moment of poignancy. Every person has a story, they just might not want to tell it to you.
Australiana melds with American-style horror in this Gothic masterpiece. The heat ripples as Arnold and Lucy go to find a dying kangaroo, the miasma of the air holding the tension as the final moments of life drain from the roo. Horror seeps into the classroom as the teacher (Siobhan Dow-Hall) reads an electrifying excerpt from master of horror himself, Stephen King. There are multiple references to King’s works throughout, serving to enrich the work for the uninitiated, and as Easter Eggs for the obsessed (I see you cherry pie eating contest disguised in bully-induced carrot spew!) The English teacher is every kind teacher you ever had in school, and for a writer like McArdle, there’s certainly a soft-spot for her, which is made more endearing by Dow-Hall’s mix of encouraging mentoring and palpable lonliness herself.
Whilst it can seem like ‘nothing happens’ in the plot, there are seismic shifts for all of the characters. Playthings is a subtly elegant play. It builds tension throughout and culminates in a fast-paced thriller of a finale. McArdle is at the top of his game – his work is plain and truthful and unafraid to confront – there is not a moment wasted in this simple, pared back work. Face your fears, and go out to the theatre, it will be the ride of your life.
WHEN: 5 – 23 November 2019 | 7:00pm
WHERE: The Blue Room Theatre | Northbridge
INFO: Tickets $20 – $30 | Duration 80 mins | Suitable 15+ | Warnings: Violence, Coarse Language, Graphic Content, Fake Blood/Vomit/Urine, Themes around Sexual Abuse, Mental Illness, Self-Harm, Smoke Machine/Hazer, Strobe Lighting