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Review Round-up: Teen Author's Moment of Truth

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Already being touted as the new Polly Stenham, Spur of the Moment is the debut work from the young and, it seems, precociously talented Anya Reiss. Written at the tender age of 17, her play rests in the capable hands of Jeremy Herrin, director of Stenham’s That Face and Tusk Tusk. The production opened at the Royal Court on 14 July 2010 and runs until 21 August.

The play revolves around Delilah, a 12-year-old surrounded by her giggling friends, her bickering parents and the object of her pre-teen affections: her parents’ lodger, Daniel. Newcomer Shannon Tarbet plays the young protagonist teetering on the brink of adolescence, while James McArdle portrays the man who encourages her inappropriate schoolgirl crush.

Reiss joins the ranks of the talents fostered by the Royal Court Young Writers’ Programme, but did the critics find this play juvenile or wise beyond its years?

  • Michael Coveney on Whatsonstage.com (three stars) – “(Reiss) has… translated the rhythms and backchat of everyday life into bitty but well-expressed dialogue that achieves its own momentum… With her three school friends, Delilah plays out the public side of ‘having a boyfriend’ as they listen to snatches of High School Musical and other pop tunes, and these passages capture exactly the sort of conversations you hear every day on the top of a bus: raucous, rude, competitive and a bit frightening. And the parents’ squabbling has the same quality of having been overheard: Sharon Small and Kevin Doyle play with the right sort of selfish edginess, glossing over the callowness of the writing with the skill of their technique… Reiss shows every sign of bridging that gap between a sort of ‘youth theatre’ automatic writing and a structured drama.”
  • Dominic Cavendish in the Daily Telegraph (four stars) – “My jaw drops. This is the most accomplished debut from a young playwright I’ve ever had the pleasure to see… If there’s a crude observation to make, and minor caveat to my praise, it’s that Reiss displays an abundant facility for keenly observed naturalism of a sort that would fit well enough on the small-screen… The tyro playwright inhabits different generational mindsets with equal emotional fluency, wit and insight. She reproduces the full entertaining horror of tween girls at their self-conscious, competitive worst… She also details the full excruciating comedy of Delilah’s parents behaving crassly in front of the youngsters… As Delilah, Shannon Tarbet… (catches) the sulky diffidence, brittle assurance and aching vulnerability of this latter-day Lolita. But there’s fine work from everyone in Jeremy Herrin’s pitch-perfect production, with Kevin Doyle and Sharon Small grimly recognisable as the warring parents, James McArdle all too believably charming and conflicted as Daniel, the reprobate lodger, and Aisling Loftus superb also as his brash, increasingly bewildered girlfriend, just visiting for the weekend…. Ignore the bland title – this is a fresh, funny and blistering indictment of the way we live, parent and grow to maturity now.”
  • Michael Billington in the Guardian (three stars) – “Less formally precise than Stenham… even if the piece sprawls, it has a disquieting ring of truth. Everyone in the household is in crisis… At times, the endless recrimination is a bit wearing; but Reiss combines sardonic observation with confessional honesty. The scene where the family's attempt to watch a Dark Knight video ends in disarray is horribly plausible. Herrin's production, designed by Max Jones with meticulous realism, is disturbingly well acted. Shannon Tarbet conveys Delilah's ardour, James McArdle is suitably guilt stricken as Daniel, and Sharon Small and Kevin Doyle bicker believably. ‘Whom the gods wish to destroy they first call promising,’ Cyril Connolly wrote; but I've a hunch Reiss has the strength to survive such dangerous labels.”
  • Fiona Mountford in the Evening Standard (five stars) – “Writers over the lofty age of, say, 20, will find themselves watching this and weeping with envy… Max Jones' skilful design does visually what Reiss’ words do aurally, bisecting an affluent family home. From this, we peer into rooms upstairs and down, and view the anguish and anger piling up like dead skin… As expected, Reiss’ sympathy lies with youth, and the irony is that, while the ‘grown-ups’ spout platitudes, Delilah is easily the most emotionally honest character… Tarbet, in her first stage role, is a revelation, sliding from the self-possession of a pre-Raphaelite model to a gauche girl who loves High School Musical. McArdle, who compellingly suggests a man conflicted and tempted, is in his final year at RADA. We’ll be hearing more of them all, starting with this year’s Most Promising Playwright awards.”
  • Dominic Maxwell in The Times (three stars) – “It’s a sharply observed, mightily promising piece of work…Reiss has a demon way with the games that we play, adults and young teenagers alike. Any adult will shudder in recognition at the way an offer of a cup of tea leads to all-out war. And if some lines have a naivety that remind you of their provenance, there’s a compensating freshness about them. As Delilah and Daniel grow closer, it feels like a horror film… Reiss excels at showing us the way that our actions betray our thoughts... She falters only when trying to step up a gear. Daniel stumps around calling himself a screw-up, crying, ‘This is the worst thing I have ever done’, and suddenly Reiss is telling rather than showing. Sharon Small and Kevin Doyle are brilliant as the bickering parents, yet their story doesn’t advance until its too-neat resolution. Even so, Jeremy Herrin’s production is smart, pacey and well-played… No, Reiss can’t quite solve the problems she sets, but this is still a distinctive, delightful debut.”

    - Lydia Onyett

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