Kids Play is now running in London following its triumph at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, where it received multiple five star reviews. It was also given the Broadway Baby Bobby Award as a mark of its excellence. Normally we wouldn’t revisit a play only a matter of weeks after having already reviewed it. This is an exception for several reasons.
A touching tale of emotional turmoil
The current production is different in many ways from its predecessor. The venue has obviously changed and it is now being performed in the recently-opened new home of Above the Stag which is now under a different and more glamorous arch in Vauxhall. The original script was written to fit into the standard 55-minute Fringe slot. Glenn Chandler has now had the chance to extend the running time and develop certain parts of the play to heighten tension and facilitate further character development. Neither actor was available for transfer so the play has been recast. Clement Charles who played Theo is now in his third year at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire and Gareth Watkins, who was Greg, is studying for his master’s degree at RADA.
David Mullen is no stranger to working with Chandler, having performed in The Sins Of Jack Saul and played both the Chaplain and Headmaster in Lord Dismiss Us. Now he takes up a part in the insurance business. Greg’s job gives him the opportunity to be away from home and the chance to play out his sexual fantasies in hotel bedrooms. He’s joined on this occasion by Theo (Joseph Clarke) a seventeen year old student who has his own ideas about bedroom activities. Clarke makes his London debut in this production. Those who saw the previous production will probably be taken aback by the contrast between him and Charles. The opportunity to cast a completely different Theo came up in auditions and Chandler seized the opportunity to give the character a new image rather than just finding a Charles lookalike. The whole process has proved highly successful in maintaining the standard set by the original cast.
A central theme of the play rests on the exercise of power and control. The expectation would be of older man taking charge and Mullen does that sternly and confidently as required, but Theo also makes certain demands. Clarke is able to dictate the terms just as easily, and the innocent-looking and perhaps rather naive boy he plays for the most part also has the ability to turn the tables. Being physically taller than Mullen gives added strength to his assertiveness and enhances the power game. The expanded ending to this version of the play provides for a deeper exploration of Greg’s vulnerability and the developing relationship between the two of them. Mullen portrays this with considerable emotion while Clarke sensitively handles the new situation.
It’s another triumph for Chandler and his team, some of whom are still with him. Jack Wills sets the various moods with his lighting and Ellie Haffenden as stage manager creates the Brighton room and runs her usual tight ship. Kids Play is still a touching tale of emotional turmoil.