The Old Vic Rehearsal Rooms, 5th July 2012
The Old Vic’s TS Eliot US/UK Exchange began earlier this year when the Old Vic initiated its search for five new plays by young American playwrights. Drawing a conclusion to its Bridge Project, which has been running for three years now, the exchange aims to forge closer working relationships between British and American theatre practitioners, with British directors, producers and actors bringing American plays to the stage. So, this past July, tickets were offered for free online with a special password, the Old Vic rehearsal rooms were opened to the public, and five new plays which the Old Vic believes have the potential for widespread success were performed for the first time in the UK.
On the 5th of July the piece was Daniel Pearle’s A Kid Like Jake, ostensibly the story of two middle class Manhattan parents trying to get their son, Jake, into the best kindergarten possible. At first the pressure and hysteria seem almost laughable as Alex, the mother, struggles to write a stand-out application essay about why someone would pick out her child in a room full of playing children. Her search to find the right wording to make the essay unique without sounding cliché is akin to what most seventeen-year-olds go through in this country when writing their personal statement; to afford the same effort into a four-year-old’s kindergarten application seems ridiculous beyond measure.
Yet as the play goes on the audience finds itself drawn into their struggle. Discussions with the headmistress of Jake’s pre-school (played intelligently by Robin Weaver of Inbetweeners fame), tours of the ‘campuses’ of the area’s top kindergartens and abject horror at the suggestion of public school find their way under the audience’s skin until we feel just as much pressure and tension as Alex does. Underlying it all, though, is the deeper question of Jake’s gender. His love of fairy tales, dresses, and playing the princess in his own reconstructions of Disney movies is a source of doubt and concern in his parents. While Greg, Jake’s father, is fairly easygoing about it all, Alex’s concern that he might be ‘labelled’ before he has even moved onto kindergarten occasionally betrays itself as a fear of confirmation that he is, perhaps, something she doesn’t want him to be.
Woven in with it all, Alex’s fear of miscarriage in her new pregnancy highlights the doubt she feels about her own capacity for motherhood. In the abstract penultimate scene Alex confronts a young woman whom she addresses as Jake, and who is then forced to leave as the clock strikes midnight. While the acting was moving, it felt as though Alex was labelling her son as a girl after all, while he was only five years old. Greg’s liberal attitude seemed less definite and fatalistic by comparison.
There was a great deal of hard work and talent in the performance; if the Exchange is revived next year I’d recommend anyone to go, if only for the privilege of being allowed into the Old Vic’s rehearsal rooms! The Exchange has demonstrated that the Old Vic is brilliant at sourcing new talent at home and abroad; long may it continue.
Image by Elizabeth Eddy