Joanna's just had a baby and she's regretting it. But doting husband Robert is pretending that everything's fine. The last thing either of them needs is a visit from their academic colleague Jake - Robert's boss and Joanna's ex- turning up with an uninvited guest. Or maybe it?s exactly what they need.
Playing with Grown-Ups at the Theatre503 is a rare treat; it manages to combine drama with naturalism like a TV soap, with the audience peering into the fourth wall to gain a snapshot of the lives of four very different individuals.
The play centres around Joanna, a thirty-something successful publisher who has recently had a baby. The constant screams of the newborn, which effectively permeate the action through the baby monitors, and the stereotype of ‘motherhood’, appear to be at odds with Joanna’s feminist politics and sense of self.
It is refreshing to see a play deal with post-natal depression, and an aversion to motherhood, in a manner that does not demonise the maternal figure. Rather, Joanna’s husband, Robert (played with expert confusion by Ben Caplan), is infuriating in his utterly oblivious, and often patronising, behaviour. The man has his career and enjoys his newborn child of an evening; the woman, meanwhile, is left feeling isolated, and useless: “I’m nothing”, she announces bitterly.
Contrasted with the angsty Joanna (Trudi Jackson), the happy-go-lucky Luke (Shane Attwooll) and his new, lolita-esque girlfriend Stella (Daisy Hughes) provide a breath of fresh air, even if Stella’s coquettish simpering does begin to grate as the play progresses.
Shane Attwooll as Luke does a particularly good job of remaining chipper amongst the often sombre atmosphere on stage, refusing to become sucked into this world of blame, regret, and frustration. Yet his attitude to life is one of carefree irresponsibility: “you only get one life Robert...it’s a long one, and it needs to be filled”, he announces insipidly.
Hannah Eidinow directs the four actors with acute attention to detail; the naturalism of the play means it does not feel staged at all, despite the odd issue of pacing, including some lengthy pauses that tend to dissipate the energy somewhat.
The design of the set, by Simon Scullion, is simple yet effective, using backdrops to recreate a pokey, IKEA-inspired living-room. Together with an apt costume design by Natalie Pryce, the presentation of Playing with Grown Ups is wholly believable, and made me, for one, want to join in the discussion on an issue that is, after all, universal relevant.
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