Joanna’s just got the baby to sleep, when her husband Robert announces that his boss – their old university mucker, Jake – is coming for dinner. He’s bringing his latest squeeze. Cue grudging small talk. ‘What do you do, Stella?’ asks Joanna. ‘Oh,’ says Stella, ‘I’m doing my A-Levels.’
Stella’s 16; born under Blair. The rest of them are pushing 40 – Harold Wilson’s children – and they’re more conscious of it than ever.
It’s a great set-up, and ‘Playing With Grown-Ups’ digs deep into the mentality of encroaching middle-age. Stella’s breezy confidence and maturity (not to mention her flawless complexion) draws out long-buried resentments and regrets. Jake still carries a torch for Joanna, his ex from university. Robert looks at his playboy boss with awe and repulsion. Meanwhile, Joanna, struggling to adapt to motherhood, is a committed feminist whose theory has broken down in practice.
‘Adults over-complicate,’ says Stella. She’s both right and wrong. Time does that by itself. Tangled regrets accumulate. Life choices pin us down. And there’s nothing so attractive as unshaped potential.
But while writer Hannah Patterson handles the underlying psychology of her characters wisely, she’s less strong on immediate motivations. Hannah Eidinow’s production follows suit: better with wistful rancour than comedy.
Trudi Jackson’s Joanna is too quick to outright rudeness and it’s hard to believe that Shane Attwooll’s Jake has such success with young women. Ben Caplan is nicely wet as the eager new dad and Daisy Hughes’s Stella has the unchecked security of youth down pat.
By Matt Trueman