Ever-so-slightly too abrasive and contrived, but nonetheless witty, shocking and engaging, ‘Adult Supervision’ - Sarah Rutherford’s first venture into comedy - was worth seeing. A stellar cast enabled one to look over the overly-plotted moments, and Rutherford’s skill as a playwright translated well onto stage, enabling all involved to set about truly testing the boundaries of racial taboos.
The play reshifts the traditional English hierarchy, placing those barren of exoticism at the bottom of the pile, whilst men and women ‘of colour’ are right at the top of the heap. Political becomes personal, and a play which begins by making the audience laugh uncomfortably but hysterically turns dark, intense and guilt-ridden.
Rutherford invites us into the home of the Perfect Mother: uptight, white ex-lawyer Natasha, who has adopted two Ethiopian children. Such is the basic premise of the play. She is soon joined by accidental-racist Izzy, a very aryan mother of two whiter-than-white children; Mo, who is married to a black man and has two mixed-race children, and the confident, seemingly self-assured, and black, Angela. All to integrate ‘colourful’ additions into the school-run for Natasha’s newfound kids.
Thus the party from hell ensues, against the backdrop of the 2008 Presidential Election, and what were once laughs turn to scowls and gasps. The play often becomes too blatantly contrived: would ‘ignorant’ Izzy really say that Mo’s daughter resembled a monkey she saw at the zoo?* I know she was supposed to be backward, but I would hope we’ve come further than that. Yet the production remains pacy and controlled, even as it descends further still from a Middle-Class cat fight to an episode of absolute hysteria.
This is not a production dealing simply with small-fry; it delves into the sadly ongoing issues of White Supremacy and of institutional racism; it challenges our own ingrained assumptions and the programmed niceties we spurn out every day. As the Obamatinis are drunk far too fast, characters turn from naive to churlish and violence, homophobia and adultery literally come into play.
Though terrifyingly thought-provoking, Rutherford could have made the play slightly subtler. At times, even the actresses didn’t seem to believe the words coming out of their mouths. Although arguably this was necessary in order to really hit home, it meant that the really hard-hitting messages of the play were often lost in translation; it was evident that Natasha wasn’t ‘holier than thou’ before she stabbed a teddy bear and let pregnant Angela crash to the floor as she fell off a yoga ball.
Nevertheless, Rutherford, and the actresses involved’s anatomising of race in largely middle class pockets is frightfully engaging. One leaves the play with an awakened sense of awkwardness, no matter their skin colour. The clever parallel of a black man’s ascent to the great heights of the world and the purported regression of a white woman to the trenches, alone, made ‘Adult Supervision’ riveting. Perhaps a little refinement could have made it genius.
* I eat my words: I have since spoken to Sarah Rutherford and she sadly pointed out that the quote about the monkey was verbatim: someone actually, appallingly, said this about her own daughter. While the point about subtlety remains, perhaps Adult Supervision really did, in some respects, need to be as outlandish as it was. As Rutherford has now said herself: we haven’t come as far as we might hope.