The Babysitters

Set in a surreal criminal underworld where gangsters play Cluedo, Hide and Seek and drink home-grown English garden tea, The Babysitters is an ambitious piece of new writing that has all the hallmarks of brilliance without quite being brilliant itself. Despite some very assured plot development and flashes of comedic golddust, the play nonetheless feels awfully like a Hostel-inspired rehash of Harold Pinter with more expletives, its slasher elements daubing over the subtle drama in evidence beneath.

Writers Matt Dann and Lewis Meade seem simply to have lifted aspects from their favourite dramatic idols, distorted them, and then passed these off as original ideas.

There is scarcely a single sentence in the entire script that is not punctuated by “fuck” or “cunt” and, whilst this could be put down to characterisation (especially in the case of Michael Forde's winning Irishman Dave), I can't help thinking that, when it comes to swearing, less really is more. If anything, gratuitous use of this sort of explicit language lessens rather than heightens the sense of absurdity an audience feels, so that instead of those electric moments where an audience is unsure whether they're supposed to be wetting themselves with laughter or fear, all they get is a string of one-liners designed to make them feel cosy. Perhaps this is an unfair criticism for a show that touts itself as 'rip-roaring black comedy', but whilst The Babysitters is certainly very funny, 'black' it is not - it denies itself the terms of suspense that could make it genuinely riveting dark humour.

There is a theory much bandied about in theatre (but no less true for all that) known as 'Chekhov's Gun'. According to Chekhov, a gun should never be brought on stage unless, at some point in the performance, it is going to be fired. This is true of all stage props: don't bring something onstage unless (a) you're going to use it and (b) the possibility of its being used is sufficient to hold an audience in suspense up until the point at which it is used. Contrary to this piece of popular thinking, The Babysitters brings props onstage that it could not possibly hope to use without seriously injuring its actors.

Overall, the production suffered from a desire to show rather than simply imply (the latter method being by far the more powerful). It is hardly surprising that its most convincing torture scene was the one that happened offstage. Writers Matt Dann and Lewis Meade (who also plays Tommy) seem simply to have lifted aspects from their favourite dramatic idols, distorted them, and then passed these off as original ideas. The ending tableau was a case in point here, quoting Martin MacDonagh's film In Bruges verbatim. MacDonagh is himself steeped in Pinter - In Bruges is after all a re-write of The Dumb Waiter, but where MacDonagh reinterprets Pinter's play, The Babysitters is little more than debased Pinter.

Reviews by Rik Baker

Pleasance Theatre

Folie à Deux

★★★★★
Hispaniola

Albee Vector the Sound Collector

★★★★★
theSpace @ Symposium Hall

PratFall

Assembly Roxy

Anthem for a Doomed Youth

★★★★
C venues - C nova

NSFW

★★★★★
Pleasance Courtyard

Hot Cat

★★★★

Performances

Location

The Blurb

Tommy and Dave, babysitters for a violent crime-boss, while away the hours playing Cluedo, eating Chinese food and wondering what's going to happen to the man tied up in the cupboard. Their job is simple: lie low, keep watch and await instructions. But when their orders finally come through, boredom turns to mayhem as the pair are plunged into a hilarious, blood-fuelled nightmare with disastrous consequences. A rip-roaring black comedy. Winner of Best Play at the Durham Drama Festival 2013. 'Utterly hilarious ... undeniable masterpiece' ***** (TheBubble.org.uk). 'Shockingly gruesome' ***** (DurhamTheatreReview.com).