Peter Hamilton’s Playground is billed as a murder mystery set in a fragmented, broken society. Supposedly, it follows an investigation into the decapitation of several small children, all of which are found with an Enid Blyton novel laid open on their murdered bodies.
In reality, the premise of this gruesome story is eclipsed by the musings of four mental health patients, who get together for a weekly book group. These unconventional literati consist of a suicidal middle-aged woman, a young psychiatric patient, a painter-decorator and a teenage communist. Sitting in a park somewhere in East London, they read Blyton stories and meander through a series of witty, political conversations.
Although the plot may be dubious, the performances are solid. Richard Fish’s portrayal of the socially awkward Danny is impressive; communicating the vulnerability of his character with sensitivity and great comic timing. But it’s the character of Tamsin (Laura Garnier) who is most entertaining with her ability to swing every conversation left: her communist frame of mind turns even a bicycle repair book into a representation of society at large.
Mitchell (Dan MacLane) and Birch (Christopher James Barley) play what seems to be the most lascivious pair of police inspectors; too distracted by each other to even focus on the case. The tension created by these two, along with hilarious one-liners and Stuart’s surprisingly perceptive insight, make the show surreally enjoyable.
Sadly, the ending is rather rushed, and, bizarrely, the whole piece might have been improved if the murder mystery element had been removed. Yet, what we do see of this literary foursome makes the production well worth a watch.