It’s the first day at a new school for brother and sister Madani and Maryam – and when fellow new girl Alex protects Maryam from a bully, it seems like a friendship is forged for life. Together they negotiate adolescence, but as they emerge into adulthood, something changes.
Maryam (Zarima McDermott) appears to be the driving force. She is fearsomely intelligent, studious, and unashamedly modern in her outlook, despite her conservative Pakistani Muslim family. Her elder brother Madani (Isambard Rawbone), obsessed with fitness and idolizing his boxing coach, is determined to be the man of the house; a good guy, he wants to do the right thing in the absence of a father.
But it is Alex who forms the apex of this triangle, and is the heart of the play. Gobby yet quietly domestic, lacking the ambition of the others, all she wants is to fall in love and get married. Aoife Smyth is perfect as Alex; her warm-heartedness is immensely engaging, and her asides commenting on her own behaviour are perfectly timed comic gems.
The tone is fun, the cultural references are spot-on, and with well-integrated costume changes the three friends move through the years: from primary school to teenage homework, to parties, and finally the longed-for months of summer after A Levels when life is full of promise – and sex. It is a joyful, witty coming of age tale.
The twist when it comes is brilliantly done. There’s a sleight of hand which means you don’t even notice it has happened, making the change in tone even more shocking when you realise. It does come very late and there isn’t much time left to deal with the fall-out, though it is handled deftly and with immense maturity. Perhaps some may feel uncomfortable with how it plays out, but part of its success that you will leave thinking about it.
Playwright Lucy Danser has crafted a play that focuses on women’s experience, yet hinges on male behaviour – and some might suggest that more could have been done to underscore that. But no: it is very much there, a very subtle trail has been laid, and all the characters find their lives and their perceptions of self significantly changed. It is a play I wish I could take my teenage children to.