Playing with Grown Ups centres around a couple in their late 30s, trying to adjust to their new roles as first time parents. Robert (Ben Caplan) takes to parenthood naturally, whereas Joanna (Trudi Jackson) is presented as frazzled and overwhelmed by her new responsibilities. An exhausted Joanna is far from pleased to hear that her husband has invited their old university friend, Jake, round for dinner.
Silver-haired Jake (Shane Attwooll) arrives with his date Stella (Daisy Hughes) a girl who is young enough to be his daughter. As the group poke fun at Stella’s idealistic view of the world, their evening is repeatedly interrupted by the baby crying offstage. Joanna’s irritation at this incessant crying is apparent, an irritation which escalates as the evening progresses until she finally erupts shrieking that she cannot cope anymore. As she expresses sentiments of feeling trapped and invisible it soon becomes clear that Joanna is suffering from severe post-natal depression.
Portraying gritty realism on stage can be tricky, but this production achieves it effortlessly. The entire play is confined to the couple’s living room, and thanks to Simon Scullion’s design and naturalistic performances from the entire cast it genuinely feels like you’re eavesdropping on a group of old friends. As the wine flows this group of university chums reflect on how the aspirations they had when they were students compare to the reality of what their lives have become.
I found Hannah Patterson’s female characterisation particularly interesting, for instance her use of monologues to reveal that despite appearing to be a happy-go-lucky carefree teenager Stella’s home life is also rather troubled. I thought that Hughes’s portrayal of Stella was both endearing and accomplished. I also found Jackson’s depiction of Joanna breakdown to be truly poignant, fighting back the tears to explain that since becoming a mother she feels like she lost all sense of identity. To have a mother refer to child as a terrible mistake is difficult to hear, but for me encapsulates the bleak despair that many women suffering from post-natal depression must feel daily.
Parents often refer to having children as being a big sacrifice, suddenly having to put another person’s needs before your own. Playing with Grown Ups explores the emotional and physiological effect that this sacrifice has on a parent.
Playing With Grown Ups is playing at Theatre 503 until 8 of June, for more information and tickets visit www.theatre503.com.