Friday, 23 October 2015

Theatre review: Playground

Enid Blyton's Famous Five books were a major part of my childhood: Adventure stories about upper-class children who survive deadly peril despite one of them being too stupid to know his own name, and another getting herself kidnapped on a roughly hourly basis, they taught the valuable lesson that it's easy to spot a criminal through the practical application of casual racism. The books get a sinister part to play in Peter Hamilton's Playground, or at least a sinister effect is attempted; or is it? I still haven't discounted the possibility that it's meant to be a comedy. Whatever it's trying to be, it fails. In Victoria Park in Bow, a serial killer has been decapitating children and leaving Famous Five books at the scene. When the murderer's identity is eventually revealed, it turns out the kids had a very obvious connection pointing to the culprit, which it took the police five corpses to spot.

But then of the two policemen we meet, one likes to hang off the climbing frame dressed in Thatcher drag, while the other one sniffs his hair, so the lack of speedy results isn't surprising. Most of the rest of the characters are explicitly stated to be mentally ill, in vaguely-described ways that border on the offensive. Hamilton's script lacks urgency - after the story is resolved we get another 15 minutes of rambling about explorers, guest houses and plumbing - as much as Ken McClymont's production lacks atmosphere. A very long two hours.

Playground by Peter Hamilton is booking until the 7th of November at the Old Red Lion Theatre.

Running time: 2 hours including interval.

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