By Jerome Studdy
Queerspace is a new theatre company that aims to champion LGBTQIA+ stories and representation. They have taken their maiden voyage with a queer reimagining of ‘Gruesome Playground Injuries’ by Rajiv Joseph, and if last night’s opening night performance is anything to go by, we should be set to expect some very powerful and neatly constructed theatre from them.
‘Gruesome Playground Injuries’ is originally a heteronormative story of the relationship between characters Kayleen and Doug, who find a bond driven by macabre fascination with wounds and injuries when they meet in the school nurse’s office at the opening of the play. Queerspace have boldly reconsidered the possibilities of the show by casting two women as Kayleen (Laura Morris) and Doug (Ricki Jade). The play leaps around in episodic form to explore the crucial life moments shared by the two characters. Each scene is linked with intelligent motif constructed around the ever growing collection of injuries suffered by Doug. Rajiv Joseph’s script is a gem of craftsmanship, and has provided Director Mackinnley Bowden with a very intelligent vehicle for exploration of the human experience.
Laura Morris and Ricki Jade are incredibly well cast, with a blinding on-stage chemistry, sensitive attention to character, and remarkable capacity to command an intimate space. Their combined ability to explore stirring and often taboo content with visceral emotion, further heightened by their mastery of character age, carries the audience through a very harrowing yet heart-warming journey. The pacing of scenes, snappy delivery of dialogue, and comedic timing are seamless and reflect what has clearly been a very thorough rehearsal period. This wonderful flow was only very occasionally interrupted by a muddled line or a stumble with set and props. The two are phenomenal in their engagement and interaction, to a point where their respective monologues fall a little short of the rest of the play.
Laura Morris plays a Kayleen who deftly leaps between complete detachment and intense emotion with absolute precision as the play explores the difference between internal and external pain; or the results of action versus apathy. Ricki Jade as Doug has captured the hyper-masculine character with charm and the overwhelming sense that you have met this person in your own life. As an audience member, I was struggling to glean whether Jade was playing Doug as a female character or whether Doug was a male character being played by a female, until I reached a point in the play where I realised that it simply didn’t matter. By maintaining the undeniably male script alongside Jade’s female portrayal, the necessity for gender conformity is rendered moot, and the emotion of the play is left to triumph. A stunning testament to the heart of Queerspace.
From a technical aspect the show was simple, with well-chosen lighting cues, and subtle manipulation of set to indicate context. It is often the case in theatre that the full extent of the lighting is used throughout a show. Contrary to this, Queerspace have shown a wonderful restraint in saving their most powerful lighting state until the final moment of the show.
The set offers a number of dynamic levels (a bed, a wheel chair, the floor, and two swings) for the exploration of physicality. Decorated with books, and games, and drawings, and toys, and blankets, and bats, and balls, the set does read as quite chaotic, sometimes to the detriment of the show. The decoration could be peeled back to heighten the clinical settings of the show, and allow the chaos of emotion to speak more clearly. The choice to expose the preparation space used by the actors was unexpected. However, it was very effective in distancing the audience between scenes; allowing the emotion to ebb and preventing the show becoming an emotional slog for the audience.
Whilst the sound was technically well executed, the choices of transition music were often at odds with the larger effect of the production. The intent of the music was correct, however the specific genre could be reconsidered to more closely reflect the characters or the context. One piece of seemingly unintentional sound design which was supremely affective was the creaking of the swings. Each time the actors sat on the swings the audience were thrown into fresh tension and internalised the emotion of the characters.
With its relatively short running time, this play is a profound way to inject some theatre into your evening. Buy your tickets, watch the show, take some time to chat to the team and witness their immense pride and passion, then wander and ponder through the wonderful establishments of Redfern. Congratulations Queerspace on an excellent show!
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.