If you go down to some woods or other over the next few weeks, you might just be surprised by the open-air spectacle of Douglas Maxwell’s bittersweet rites of passage play. As revived by site-specific pioneers Grid Iron, now as ten years ago director Ben Harrison places things in a real swing-park. This is more than mere novelty. The metal clatter of the gymnastic manouvre that gifts the play its title lends a thrilling edge to proceedings as the all male cast break the eerie silence of Cumbernauld Park at dusk.
It’s an atmosphere that’s perfect for this troubling evocation of a summer that starts out with primary school age rough and tumble, but ends with the boys’ silent adult selves watching ghosts from the past like shell-shocked survivors wondering where their lives went. Central to this is Ben Winger’s Decky, who’ll never be as tough or as reckless as O’Neill, Barry, Chrissy and narrator David, played with casual swagger by Martin McCormick.
A decade’s directing experience has certainly given Harrison’s production a slickness it never had before, and not just in the impressively choreographed feats of boyish bravado. Maxwell’s play seems deeper somehow, a melancholy mix of innocence and experience beyond the play-fighting. It’s as if prototypes in waiting for some Gregory’s Girl style romp had been recast out of cartoon-land and into the grim reality of Andrew O’Hagan’s journalistic study of lost boys and girls, The Missing. The sense of loss that permeates beyond the unashamedly sentimental ending isn’t just for Decky, the first of the gang to die. It’s the cruelest reminder that childhood stops, sometimes brutally, far too soon.
The Herald, July 2nd 2010