first night

The Babysitters

Serena Gosling is left in stitches by Thrust Stage's 'The Babysitters'

‘The Babysitters,’ written by Matt Dann and Lewis Meade and directed by Dann is an award-wining black comedy detailing the botched kidnap and torture of Eddy, a suspected rival gang member, by two incompetent mobsters. The play, well received at the Durham Drama Festival last year has come back even richer in wit and absurdity, keeping the audience in stitches most of the way through.


The play opens on Dave (Michael Forde) and Tommy (Lewis Meade) embroiled in a game of Cluedo and Meade’s strangely humorous breathing has the audience laughing before their first exchange, setting the tone for much of the show.


Their interactions, for the most part, are natural and easy, causing many laugh out loud moments. Perhaps owing to first night nerves, Meade, at first, seemed apprehensive and his lines slightly forced but he soon warmed up and, by the end he had stolen the show with his childish ineptness and nervous nature, which endeared him to the audience despite the circumstances. Forde, at times, seemed to find it difficult to keep up with Meade’s energy, particularly in the group scenes, Nevertheless, his performance was strong and his monologues, notably when on the phone to his boss, were both mesmerizing and amusing, making excellent use of ambiguous pauses. The dynamic between the duo was superb; bouncing off each other well and keeping the audience amused with their outstanding comic timing.


The surprising ‘entrance’ of Eddy the hostage (Will Downes) signals one of the funniest parts of the show as things take a turn for the worse. Downes’ realistic screams of agony were hilariously offset by Meade’s comic horror and fascination with the blood covering his fingers.


Whilst watching ‘The Babysitters’ it is impossible not to appreciate the lengths to which the producers (Meade and Matilda Hunter) have gone to in procuring an array of props previously unseen in Durham. As well as blood bags that often forced squeamish audience members to hide their eyes, multiple guns including a shotgun have also been sourced. These novel props do much to add to the tension and comedy of the show, notably when Meade finally gets his hands on the shotgun with hilarious results.


The comic entrance of upper class, tweed-clad mobsters, Barry (Hugh Train) and George (Alex Morgan) adds a new dimension to the play. This new duo poses a stark contrast to Forde and Meade’s characters, in costume, language and accents.


Morgan at times was slightly over-the-top in his portrayal, such as when adopting a baby-like voice, in his interaction with Downes that, to an extent, fell flat with the audience. Nevertheless, he had some outstanding comic moments; his sophisticated interactions with Train flawlessly enhanced the surrealism of the situation; nonchalantly discussing his domestic issues whilst covered in blood and restraining victims for interrogation.


            Train’s portrayal was faultless, touching on torture and death with the perfect amount of casualness and sinister undertones. Consequently, it was this unnerving mix, which was hilariously offset by his meek submissiveness while on the phone to his wife.


Morgan and Train’s interactions were characterised by a brilliant combination of dispassionate discussions about torture and murder, cleverly counterbalanced by heated and absurdly passionate exchanges regarding tea. At times, however these initially comic interludes were over-played and, towards the end, began to drag with more of the same discussion. This was by no means the fault of the actors however, and instead is rooted in the script, which could be seen as devoting a little too much time to the same material, lessening the comedy toward the end.


The Babysitters accomplishes what any good black comedy sets out to do: creating humour that makes light of an otherwise serious subject matter. Dann has certainly managed to pull off another fantastic production, very much appealing to its target audience. Whilst some of the interactions were slightly cumbersome and the energy in places dropped, for the most part exchanges were slick and comic and I would therefore be inclined to put shaky encounters down to first night nerves. The play achieved the rare and great feat of engaging an entire audience in peals of laughter on numerous occasions and I would highly recommend giving this one a watch.


7 February 2014

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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