It’s the kind of play an actor dreams of. This two-hander by author Rajiv Joseph is dark, gritty, kind, gentle, devastating, and hopeful. Within the span of 90 minutes Gruesome Playground Injuries takes the audience on a journey through Kayleen and Doug’s childhood years, the trials of adolescence, the confusion of early adulthood, finally ending thirty years after the pair met.
Presented by Little Ray of Sunshine Productions, Melbourne’s newest independent theatre company, Clare Hayes and Alexander Lloyd take on the roles of Kayleen and Doug respectively. Meeting in the nurses office at age 8, the pair become fast friends, bonding over their ailments, Doug having ridden his bike off the school roof in an attempt to replicate Evil Knievel and Kayleen subdued by one of her stomach aches. This first meeting sets the tone for the rest of the play. The two characters are innocent, kind, and a little bit weird, revelling in their experience of pain. As they grow and their paths continue to cross, Kayleen and Doug are a mismatched pair, navigating the complexities of life in their own strange way.
The constant theme throughout is of Doug forever being injured, his grievances becoming more catastrophic throughout the years. This is embodied beautifully by Lloyd, who brings humour to the role and refuses to let the audience (or Kayleen) feel sorry for him, regardless of how debilitating his recent accident may have been.
Hayes plays childhood innocence with such conviction you truly believe you are observing an 8-year-old play hopscotch in the opening scene. She is mesmerising to watch.
The pair have an easy connection and a genuine friendship which plays out throughout the performance. Soundtracked by early naughties pop music, there is a nostalgic factor that is immensely enjoyable.
There is darkness within this performance, and it is dealt with delicately and honestly, the yearning between the characters for a better life, happiness and each other is tremendously engaging and is reminiscent of Sally Rooney’s Normal People combined with the most recent incarnation of Heartbreak High.
Subtle lighting changes and a chalkboard wall marks the passage of time in this production with effective simplicity. As the actors take on each character at different stages of their lives, there is some delay with onstage costume and set changes which briefly take you out of the action.
However, Hayes and Lloyd are quick to bring you back into the story, Lloyd in particular has an array of convincing injuries that continue to haunt me. The pair are delightfully weird and wonderful, a perfect mismatched duo played with effortless sincerity.
Gruesome Playground Injuries is oddly cathartic, and whilst dealing with sensitive content manages to be moving, charming and funny. It is a wonderful debut from Little Ray of Sunshine Productions, and I look forward to their continued success.
Little Ray of Sunshine Productions presents
Gruesome Playground Injuries
by Rajiv Joseph
Venue: The Irene Mitchell Theatre | St Martins Theatre, 28 St Martins Lane, South Yarra VIC
Dates: 22 – 27 November 2022