Written by Drew Gill
Directed by Abbie Craigmyle
How many of the kids you hung around with in the playground do you still speak to? Unless you’re from a small community, chances are that apart from the occasional message, they likely aren’t all that prominent in your life. For all the drama, skinned knees and “developmental” bullying, the playground era is often looked on as an easier time in our lives, a sepia-tinted nostalgia trip before the harsh cage of reality came crashing down. But gradually, all good things come to an end as flowers fade, balloons deflate, and childhood friends move away. Unbeknownst, our interactions on the playground heavily mirror and impact adult life. The relationships we forge, the experiences shared, and those we keep in contact with all play a role in defining us.
Drew Gill’s Why I Left The Playground borrows from the recent string of docu-style productions, enabling a time-lapse to understand the complexities of growing up. Manifesting a story of six friends, interviewed at the playground fifteen years ago, and in the present day, Gill dives into the impact our interactions have and the memories we fade to the back of our mind, at what first appears to be a jovial interview belays a rich understanding of psychological theatre, which with refinement has tremendous potential.
Now, it wouldn’t be an authentic look into the antics of children without some emotional bumps and bruises. Abby Craigmyle’s subdued direction may allow for chaotic energy from the ‘child’ performances, but they strive to maintain a sense of structure. It allows for an easy flow of time, the production’s digital editing a clean and straightforward dip and spring between the present and fifteen years. The methodology of a documentary allows for an exploration into the complexities of coming to grips with our younger selves but enables the cast to diversify their range in energy, tone and autonomy.
At moments there’s an imbalance between the sincerity of an adult performance and the extraordinary difficultly of portraying a child. The cast does an overall adequate job, some differentiating the physical language between their current and younger selves. To an enviable level, Liam Malcolm finds it worryingly easy to inhabit the bundle of eruptive energy which is Jack. Others find it takes more time to find their feet, either leaning too heavily into one characteristic as a metaphorical crutch to rely.
Locating an instinctual judgment are fictional sisters Chloe and Laura Burton, played by Lauren Shedden and Lucie Farrimond. They engage in a more touching and sensitive topic surrounding the hideously under scrutinised issues with child carers and those living under disheartening and potentially abusive circumstances. Yet this is a genuine and wholesome relationship, an older sister with a keener sense of reality and protecting her sibling at all costs.
And mercifully, there’s a sense of decorum in Gill’s writing, with a keen ability to convey an understanding to the audience without the necessity of gross detail or belittling. How Farrimon holds herself is also the production’s most natural evolution from younger self or older, as we gain a full grasp of the cleaning and rule-abiding obsession of her younger self to the less warm presence of her sister. Shedden enhances this particular story segment, matching Farrimon’s performance with an understated resistance, establishing the pairs sibling disconnection within the story.
Losing out somewhat, Gill ensures that there aren’t dramatic revelations across the board to maintain believability, but this does mean that certain characters have less meat to chomp their teeth into. Abby Craigmyle’s direction, however, ensures a sense of impact across all cast members, vying to maintain an even scale of emotion and energy. It makes for nuanced performances from Kyle Doig and Cameron Borthwick, as playground besties Max and Sean. Easily the most identifiable pairing, the genuine loss of a friend who moves away is weighty but never carried with melodrama.
There’s tremendous difficultly in reconnecting with childhood with neither nostalgia nor resentment. Not to target the fond memories or the nightmares, but with the open arms as to who you were. Malarkey Theatre challenges the expectations of swerving between extremes when rekindling the past. As part of the Redraft Festival, Why I Left The Playground goes beyond the surface of playground politics and examines the impact of loneliness, acceptance and growth of just precisely when we stop being kids. There’s a bountiful understanding for something special, with a fine grasp on a concept that requires smooth edges and elaboration on other character roles.
Why I Left The Playground is available to view until April 2nd here
Photo credit Leigh Simpson