GRUESOME PLAYGROUND INJURIES by Rajiv Joseph, presented by Navi Collaborative
In a nutshell: a slow but moving two-hander about love, life and taking risks, which follows two friends who come in and out of each other’s lives at the moments when they are at their most vulnerable.
Doug – excellently played by recent Unitec graduate Tyler Brailey – is as exuberant and as careless about physical danger as a driver in the wacky races. He cycles off the school roof to be like Evil Knievel. He loses an eye playing with fireworks. Suffice to say, he spends a lot of time in first the nurse’s room, and later A&E.
Kayleen meanwhile has a stomach problem that may or may not be psychosomatic. She is so shy that even after six years in school with Doug, he gets her name wrong. She too spends a lot of time in the nurse’s room after vomiting incidents. And it is there that the two of them, each inhabiting different ends of the extrovert, introvert spectrum, meet and become unlikely best friends. He thinks everything is worth a go, and bounces back when things go wrong. She, after a lifetime of domestic unrest at home, teeters on the edge of life, going with the flow, unable to take any risks at all. It is the old paradigm where the boys can do anything, and the girl feels obliged to wait until she is asked. Neither taking the first move, Kayleen rather turning her focus inwards to mark her own body, in the hope of gaining any feeling of control over her destiny.
David Nicholl’s novel One Day follows a similar theme and structure. A girl and boy meet but due to circumstance, indecision, and self-doubt, cannot commit to each other. In the novel, we see them on the same day of every year, sometimes intersecting, sometimes not. Here the structure goes forwards and backwards in time, each scene taking place when something ghastly has happened to one of them. This works well, joining up the moments in life that are lived more intensely than others, making choices seem more necessary. On the other hand, it always leaves the injured character dealing not only with the injury, but their future happiness, which may just be too much to bear in one day. And so it proves. One will reach out to connect as the other retreats to lick their wounds.
The play takes a little while to get going and there are long gaps between scenes as the actors change, becoming older, younger, and more or less damaged right in front of us. There is too much attention to detail here; one set of jeans and tights comes off, then different jeans are put on, a different top, a tooth is blacked out. On each side of the set is a clothing rail and a mirror. The music that accompanies them is well-chosen though, and as the evening progresses, one starts to lean into the pauses that allow a bit of relief from the tension of the scenes. It does make it hard for the actors though, who have to go from being ‘off’ to ‘on’ in front of us, and sometimes it jars a little, particularly for Dawn Glover, simply because her character’s face often holds so much tension. Brailey copes better.
This is a chamber piece more than a ‘show’. It deals with the minutiae of everyday angst and the dialogue occasionally slips into well-worn grooves. Where it shines is in its appreciation of the importance of love in breeding love, and the extraordinary self-destructive narratives one will create to justify their own self-loathing; to recognise that those who find it easy, and those who find it so hard, can navigate in the same world, baffled by each other and never quite able to connect, however much they may want to do so.