Fourteen (Watford Palace Theatre)
Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti's new play examines the growing pains of teenage life
Teenage is that shark-infested gap between being a child and becoming an adult. Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti's new play examines it from the viewpoint of a girl 14 herself in 1984 and with a 14-year old daughter in 2014.
It's called, appropriately enough, Fourteen. We meet Lina (Yasmin Wilde) as she slams into her bedroom in a temper; her Christian Punjabi family have made her miss her favourite pop group's latest broadcast. Her mother and father always seem to be quarrelling – we hear their off-stage arguments – and she's half in, half out of the cliques at school.
A succession of scenes takes us through her classroom successes (with a teacher's encouragement) until her desire to be "one of the gang" lets her down. Then her relationship with her father, and his with her friends, frays into something disturbing. This is not helped by a racist attack on him.
The second half of the play introduces us to Lina aged 44. She has a daughter, Amber, though the girl's father is not on the scene. Those early hopes of university have long since crumbled into a struggle just to survive. This she does by doing cash-in-hand housekeeping chores while signing on.
Amber longs to meet her grandfather, but he's bedridden. Lina wants to do the best for her daughter, to keep her from making the same, old mistakes. Will she, can she succeed? It's the strength of Wilde's performance that you believe in her utterly, whether as the podgy pigtailed schoolgirl or as the making-do single mother.
It's a fine piece of acting, and director Brigid Larmour balances the intricate writing with the subtlety of the performance very well. The set by Ruari Murhison plays its own part, as does Prema Mehta's lighting and Richmond Rudd's sound. We've all been teenagers. We know what it's like. Kaur Bhatti gets under the skin of the between-age to bring all its itches to the surface.
Fourteen runs at the Palace Theatre, Watford until 24 May.