Theatre Review - Gruesome Playground Injuries

Kayleen and Doug meet at primary school, aged eight, and forge an unlikely friendship. He’s just ridden his bike off the school roof and “broken his face.” She is suffering from a stomach ache. This unpromising beginning develops into a tenuous love affair that spans over thirty years and is defined by their various injuries and ailments.

Doug is forever having accidents while Kayleen makes herself sick or self-harms. They spend years apart and usually only come together as the result of one or the other falling ill or being hospitalised. Somehow, though, they always fail to make the connection that will tie them together definitively.

It doesn’t sound like a great story for theatre but don’t be put off. Pulitzer Prize finalist Rajiv Joseph’s GRUESOME PLAYGROUND INJURIES is a wonderful piece of drama, finely detailed and beautifully executed by Mariah Gale and Felix Scott. It has many funny moments but is also heart wrenchingly sad. The violence of the injuries sustained by the characters over the years, and the bravado they display, contrasts with the evident tenderness they feel for one another. Love, it is implied, can damage as well as nurture and until they begin to care about themselves their relationship cannot flourish.

The action is played out on Lily Arnold’s clinically white set, a traverse stage slicing the Gate auditorium diagonally in two. Under the deliberate glare of Andy Purves’ lighting, Kayleen and Doug both wear their hearts on their sleeves but appear unable to articulate the complexity of their feelings for one another. In between scenes the lights dim as they change clothes on stage, tenderly helping to dress each other and paint on their wounds and scars. I don’t think I have ever seen such emotive scene changes. The suggestion is that love often takes root in life’s quieter moments.

Remarkably, Joseph has not been produced in Britain before now. Justin Audibert is this year’s recipient of the Leverhulme Bursary for Emerging Directors. It is a fruitful pairing of talents. Not to be missed.

Gate Theatre until 16 February

Originally published by Theatreworld