REVIEW: KIDS PLAY (Above the Stag Theatre) ★★★★
We have before us a pleasantly decorated Brighton hotel room; the air is thick with tension as a smartly-dressed gentleman paces back and forth, watched by a comparatively younger man in a band T-shirt and shorts. Greg is our older man, and he is unhappy with Theo’s arrival. We discover that we are witnessing an arrangement between the two that isn’t going well: Greg is concerned about Theo’s tender age of just 17, but still, money exchanges hands. But is everything as straightforward as we first believe it to be? As the story progresses, the true nature of the transaction is revealed – but as the role-playing begins and the questions flood in, we discover the meaning behind their entanglement.
‘Kids Play‘ is written by Glenn Chandler, who is the creator of show and household name ‘Taggart’ – so needless to say, the bar is set very high for this fresh creation. The character of Theo is not as he first appears: this may be a teenager involved in rented intimacy, but he knows exactly what he wants. Joseph Clarke is excellent as our Theo, capturing the youthful naivety and wit of his character with ease. The play is very funny throughout, and Clarke is responsible for delivering many of the well-placed one-liners that incur a frustrated reaction from the far more abrasive Greg, played by David Mullen. Mullen’s versatility and experience as an actor is clear in his approach to the complex character of Greg, sensitively portraying a deeply damaged man who is nonetheless inherently kind.
This is undoubtedly a play of numerous themes and has the potential to resonate with its viewers on many a personal level, particularly standing out as a narrative of emotional vulnerability and coping mechanisms. It suggests that we all probably need therapy for something – whether we actively realise it or not – and it can take a complete stranger to access this darkness. ‘Kids Play’ is a study on personal motives: why individuals seek the specific pleasures that they do, and whether sex is both a means to hide from one’s issues and also a catalyst for uncovering what is repressed.
There are a few important plot twists in this hour-long production, and one major one is halfway through when we discover that Greg is bothered by Theo’s age not just for the obvious reason, but for a more personal and heartbreaking one. Whilst I won’t spoil what this is, to me this revelation felt a little too purposefully placed and, therefore, rather implausible. The plot is engaging and the characters are well-written enough to allow for this twist to be a lot more subtle, without taking anything away from the play’s impact. The play ends in a very neat fashion, a path to happiness for both characters apparently laid out. Once again, perhaps a little bit contrived – but an ending of hope and potential for a sequel, nonetheless.
If you’re interested in human psychology, you’ll find Glenn Chandler’s ‘Kids Play’ utterly engaging and thought-provoking. The play garnered a fantastic reception at the Edinburgh Fringe, and the London production is living up to the talk. Clarke and Mullen are superbly cast in Chandler’s multi-layered production of the denial of grief and pursuit of distraction, and you will metaphorically depart this hotel room feeling immensely moved.
Reviewed by Laura Evans