Review: Playing Pretend
“Bring a bit of magic back into the world. For a little while.”
With a fantastical twist, Jake Fenton’s “Playing Pretend” brings to life the immensity of growing up. Alternating between the troubles of the real world and that of the dystopian “next door,” the production follows the lives of two friends as they each struggle to overcome the tragic loss of their friend, Teddy.
Brought to life by the amazing Kiko Gomersall and Maddy Power, the emotional portrayals of Sammy and Jason enable the audience to fall victim to the turmoil of their innermost thoughts and feelings. The incessant badgering (and incredible talent) of the characters Moth (Francesca Lees), Cobweb (Flossie Adrian) and Peablossom (Sophie Stemmons) created an almost incapacious tone – despite the scale of the setting and the physical details of the friends’ lives remaining unchanged, the haunting whisperings of their imaginary friends act as a poignant reminder to us all, I think, about the loss of friends and somewhat brutal reality of growing up.
This poignancy was, in part, due to the endless creativity of the production team, to whom much credit is due. Aesthetic value aside, the continual set alterations and innovative use of sound (Angela Okafor), music and lighting (Lily Brough) were pivotal in furthering the audience’s immersion in the play – they provide a visual guide, helping you navigate the twists and turns of the plot with relative ease.
The setting of the Corpus Playroom only adds to the intimate tone. Interaction between the fairy-like creatures and the audience marks the start of the production, with the cast artfully taking full advantage of the limited space available in the Playroom (courtesy of movement director, Ella Palmer). As opposed to seeing the actors restricted to just the stage, it was refreshing to watch the entering and exiting of characters (literally!) left, right and centre, placing the audience at the heart of the live experience. You can’t help but feel as though you’ve become oddly complicit in the de-railing of Jason and Sammy’s world as the play progresses; the developing conflict between normalcy and the fantasy world around you provides a tragic metaphor for the characters’ internal turmoil, which the audience is invited to become a part of.
Thalia Witherford’s costumes are also deserving of appreciation. Forged from mediums such as bubble wrap, silk and tulle, they are an asset to her creativity. Sitting in stark contrast to the more ordinary characterisation of Sammy and Jason, the fairy-like characters were the focus of the stage with the conflicting colours and textures only emphasising the characters’ mystique. Thalia’s adoption of reflective materials and scraps not only added to the other-worldly effect of the production but also created harmony with the almost dilapidated appearance of the set.
Without adopting the much-resented “how is it over already?!” cliche, my one nit-pick would have to be the abruptness of the ending; what felt like mid-scene, the sudden brightening of the lights and the copious audience applause marked the end of the production. Perhaps more could have been done to draw the production to a clearer close as opposed to leaving me (and I’m sure others too) questioning whether we had really reached the end of the play.
Despite the abruptness of the ending, the production’s professionalism cannot be understated. The cast and the set complemented each other in a way that helped the audience immerse themselves in a foreign world beyond reality, providing a much-appreciated escape from our own stresses and worries – even if just for an hour.
Playing Pretend is showing at the Corpus Playroom at 9:30 pm from the 8th – 11th of February. Book your tickets here.