It’s 3 o’clock on a Sunday afternoon in January – perhaps not to best time to perform an outdoor piece of site-specific theatre. It may be cold, but the sky is bright in Normand Park, and the air is crisp. It’s time to put your headphones on and relive your playground memories.
A young and enthusiastic cast emerge, accompanied by a shopping trolley, from the hoards of playing children. The audience is initially reluctant to latch on to their energy, but their participatory reticence does not last long. After a slightly forced introduction, we naturally fall into the rhythm of Childsplay.
Each audience member is given a headset or ‘portal’, which allows us to transfer between eras via a ‘time warp’. It’s a clunky but workable way of negotiating the different time periods through which the show journeys, charting the various forms of play experienced by 12 year olds, from the 1950s to the present. As the cast plays Cowboys and Indians, we listen to testimonials from people’s remembrances of play time, and the games they enjoyed the most. With historically apt music, a filmic element is introduced, as scenarios are played out in front of a soundtrack that only we can hear.
As we warm up to the idea of this show, we’re asked to participate in various games. Taken aside to learn clapping games and ‘Jenny Jones’, female members of the audience are given rhubarb and custard sweets. From a non-judgemental starting point, the increasingly gendered nature of play over time becomes gradually apparent. While everyone present is able to be included in a game of French and English, there’s an added severity if a girl gets hurt. As we veer towards the modern day, the gap between the sexes goes from barely noticeable to divisive.
Sparking an audience debate about the development of play, it’s clear that, like anything else, it has evolved with the changing world, rather than taking on an altogether new face. Open spaces, and a childlike defiance of the cold are both things we should strive to maintain. Nostalgia isn’t often thought-provoking – but sometimes it can be.