Two teenagers, Lucy and Arnold, are really good friends, more than friends, drawn together with a kind of sixth sense of each other’s trauma. As the play unfolds we learn about the source of this trauma. In Lucy’s case we learn about it as she does, while Arnold discloses the terrible secret he’s been carrying since childhood and how that has metastasised within him as he’s matured. For Lucy, the trauma has unconsciously become embodied within her psyche, affecting her mood and actions, without her really understanding why until the truth emerges.
McArdle’s writing is intelligent and profound. We feel the loneliness of the characters, even though they have others around them, and we recognise their confusion as they try to understand how they fit into the world. Yet, “Playthings” still manages to not take itself too seriously. The characters are quirky and willing to make fools of themselves in the pursuit of fun, friendship and connection. Courtney Henri as Lucy walks a fine line between portraying the numbness and detachment, while still letting the audience into her inner world. Likewise, Daniel Buckle as Arnold portrays the resilience and pragmatism of children who overcome their circumstances, making the most of the present as situations occur. Yet, Buckle also manages to ground those moments into emotionally and physically charged depictions of the trauma, and the developing self-awareness of teenagehood.
Siobhan Dow-Hall as Miss Richards gives a restrained performance as the school teacher who eventually breaks free from those constraints to help her students. St John Cowcher as Lucy’s stepfather Rhys gives a refreshing portrayal of the stepfather role, trying to connect with his stepdaughter while keeping secrets of his own.
McCardle’s direction is beautifully measured and thoughtful, letting the drama evolve gradually, knowing when to allow stillness and silence.
Set design by Sara Chirichilli, built by Andrew David and John King, was perhaps more realistic than it needed to be and sometimes impeded the action. Lighting design, also by McArdle fused gently with the atmosphere of the scenes. Sound design and composition by Rebecca Riggs-Bennett is cleverly representative of the action then symbolic when required.
McArdle’s writing (with dramaturgy by Alexa Taylor) is intense, funny and heartbreaking. “Playthings” is a unique depiction of the causes and effects of trauma from childhood to adulthood, and how it is expressed and embodied.
“Playthings” is showing at The Blue Room Theatre until 23 November 2019.
Bookings at https://blueroom.org.au/events/playthings/or call 9227 7005.