Ten Tiny Fingers, Nine Tiny Toes, Trap Door Theatre. Although Sue Townsend is probably best known for her children’s book (later a play) The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4, it’s probably the least representative of her many novels and scripts. That fairly hopeful chronicle of the adventures of a precocious, world-weary teenager is a far cry from the dystopia she presents in Ten Tiny Fingers, Nine Tiny Toes. Set in a not-so-distant future in which the British government has restricted child rearing to only the highest castes, Townsend’s dark farce substitutes a morose, pessimistic vision as bleak as the society it portrays for Adrian’s hip, subversive cynicism.

Townsend’s quintessentially British view of the class system is embodied here in the struggles of two families–one upper-middle-class, one working-class–to keep their children from being taken away at birth. But her script jumps from bawdy comedy to pathos and back too frenetically, a pitfall director Michael S. Pieper seems unable to surmount in an otherwise solid staging. There’s too much of a gap between the haves and have-nots here: the crude, lower-class Birds resemble pathetic refugees from a dusty Dickens tome while the hedonistic upper-crust Darlings seem contemptible, overblown dandies straight out of Upstairs, Downstairs. Despite the mammoth efforts of Pieper’s excellent cast, the play’s attempts at social satire are ultimately too bleak to be effective: the rich get richer while the poor are left to rot.

–Nick Green