Review: Playing Dead, Devonshire Park Theatre

THIS year’s Thriller Season opened with a brand new play from the pen of highly successful TV script writer, Philip Gladwin.

His ear for 21st century dialogue and idioms is as pitch-perfect as anything portrayed in countless small-screen blockbusters.

Coming at the end of a two-month national tour for talkingScarlet, the play, coolly directed by Patric Kearns, has been renamed ‘Playing Dead’ for Eastbourne audiences. Previously it was ‘Kiss Chase’.

For those who can recall the school playground game of the same name, where girls seeking a kiss, chase boys, the original title provides a deeper insight into its subject than the adopted one.

It is classmates-reunion time. A disused school gymnasium, accurately depicted by Claire Booth’s starkly reminiscent set, is where four 40-something ex-pupils suddenly find themselves locked-in, unable to get out.

Their initial friends-reunited jokiness soon turns sour when wimpish John (Marcus Hutton) becomes, again, the target of his schoolboy tormentors, smartarse Mike (Stephen Beckett) and unreformed-thug Pete (Ben Roddy), despite the efforts of Pete’s first-love Debbie (Jenny Funnell).

The aggro comes from John’s insistence on trying to discover the truth about the death of his teenage sweetheart in a house-fire thirty years ago.

Each character offloads their personal skeletons-in-the-cupboard including time in prison, failed marriages, unfulfilled careers, and in Debbie’s case, physical abuse by her husband.

The bullying climaxes with John being sadistically humiliated, for which he retaliates by dowsing himself in petrol.

This is a cleverly contrived psychological thriller perceptively acted. Only marred in the latter stages by snatches of horror-movie music.

Watching the gradual disintegration of characters who have betrayed themselves and each other for years required no such embellishment.

The agonisingly slow dimming of the gymnasium lights and gently lowered final curtain was more eloquent. Think carefully when you next recall your own first kiss.