REVIEW: Playpen at KXT

Review by Michelle Sutton Written by Rhiarn Zarzhavsky, Playpen explores the human brain and how it works with all of its wonders and oddities. The production directed by Lucy Yabsley uses physical theatre, music and dialogue to illustrate different facets of the mind, from fluctuating mental health to the sudden and dramatic onset of existential crises during puberty, to obsessive compulsion, over-thinking, stress, burn out, the constant craving to consume media and to the ever encroaching desire to escape it all and run away to a paradise free of schedules, alarms and capitalistic job pressures. Playpen is produced by Jennifer Hart for the Dollhouse Collective and is part of the Panimo Pandemonium Festival running until March 13 at KXT. The festival curated by Panimo Creatives is presenting 15 new pieces of theatre, along with workshops and parties that celebrate and support new and emerging artists. The cast of Playpen consists of 7 actors dressed identically in an outfit consisting of a black shirt and pants with a grey blazer and neatly pulled-back ponytail, typical professional corporate attire. This immediately jars with the stage that is covered in large brightly coloured foam jigsaw pieces with the alphabet with small children’s chairs and plastic balls, items that you would indeed find in a child’s playpen. The performers Erin Franks, Alexandra Roberts, Olivia Xegas, Lana Filies, Rachele Edson, Meg Hyeronimus and Lucy Yabsley, are fully committed to the piece and move with a high level of energy and intensity. The artists take turns performing monologues that illustrate different mental struggles and functions of the brain. Rhiarn Zarzhavsky’s writing brims with nostalgic details and vibrant images that highlight the importance of small moments in daily life. The monologues are captivating and highly relatable, including many funny childhood anecdotes as well as musings on perfectionism and priorities and passions changing as we get older and grow up. Each actor delivers their monologue with vulnerability and earnestness, some as a fearful confession of insecurity and exhaustion and others while lost in play, on a soccer field or in their childhood room conversing with their teddy bear. Meg Hyeronimus stands out in her section, bringing a breath of fresh air to the piece through her comedic timing, gestures and infectious gleeful energy. Movement director Jennifer Hart has worked well with the director Lucy Yabsley, creating interesting sequences and shapes and utilising the props and talents of the cast to depict the brain’s functions and dysfunctions. The runtime of 50 minutes is perfect for the style of theatre and the venue of KXT. The piece is long enough to be engaging and complex for audiences whilst maintaining a sense of fun and curiosity. At times it is hard to hear the artists, with their voices straining over the loud music, although this may be the point, the sound resembling the mind trying to articulate a clear train of thought through all of the competing outside noise and influences. Playpen is a creative, intriguing and touching piece of theatre. Although it is rich with textures, colours and sounds, it leaves a lot left up to the audience’s imagination; encouraging us to continue to use our brains.

Image Credit: Dollhouse Collective