Play for September

Wed 31st July – Mon 26th August 2013

reviews

Lucy Wood

at 23:36 on 18th Aug 2013

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Part of what makes 'Play for September' such a delight is that it is such a surprise. Another play about a school? No, thanks. Another play about the tortured path to adulthood? Not again. But the deftness of the writing and the subtlety of the actors’ performances transform this well-trodden ground and make it fresh again.

The story centres around the loves and lives of two school girls as one them enters into a relationship with her teacher, Mike Bode (Jim Crago). It’s a timely subject and one ripe for discussion, but which usually tends to get bogged down in lurid headlines. The fact that the play manages to steer clear of shock tactics and the moral diatribes which usually surround this kind of topic is a huge testament to the skilful portrayal of Olivia Hirst’s characters.

The characters are, for the most part, fleshed out, and the relationships between them remains convincing and well played. Particular praise should be given to Olivia Hirst and Rianna Dearden who play Elle and Kay respectively. The progression of their relationship from giggling fourteen year-old girls to the lovesick teenager and her exasperated friend to twenty-somethings trying to deal with the aftermath of their experiences were always careful and considered. Their performance is consistently good, swiftly transforming and shifting as the girls grow older and the world around them begins to change and move beyond their control.

Part of what makes the play feel so fresh and unusual is its focus not on Kay or her teacher, Mike Bode (played by Jim Crago), but on her friend Elle. This focus allows for a newer perspective on what could otherwise have been little more than a series of blazing headlines strung together by dialogue. We see the other characters largely through Elle’s eyes and it is through her we witness their change and feel the force of their relationship on themselves and the people around them.

This does have its drawbacks, as we see very little of the relationship outside of what Elle is directly told. The relationship between Bode and Kay can begin to feel a little perfunctory at points, as we are talked through rather than shown the trajectory of their own story. However, ultimately this is worth seeing; tucked away in the Below of the Pleasance there is a little wonder waiting for anyone who wanders in.

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Christian Kriticos

at 12:40 on 19th Aug 2013

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‘Play for September’ opens on an unpromising note, with Avril Lavinge’s teen anthem ‘Sk8er Boi’ pouring out of the speakers at an uncomfortable volume (though some might consider any volume above mute uncomfortable). The song provides a fitting soundtrack, however, for what follows – two teenage girls, Elle and Kay, discussing the great questions of life in an empty classroom in September of 2003. Which of their classmates would they kill if they had to? How would they choose to die? Which teacher would they like to go out with?

From this light-hearted opening, the play soon takes a darker turn, as Kay gradually becomes involved in a pseudo-relationship with her English teacher, Mr Bode. Elle finds herself caught in the middle of this relationship, forming a bizarre and disturbing love triangle. As Kay’s best friend, Elle feels she cannot betray her and reveal what is happening, but she knows, on some level, that something is deeply wrong.

Elle soon becomes the centre of the play, and she is certainly the most interesting character - desperately insecure, yet simultaneously strong. She evolves slowly through the play as she matures, abandoning her dangly earrings and taking up a bag adorned with the image of feminist icon Rosie the Riveter. Rianna Dearden is excellent in the role – she has the mannerisms of a teenage girl down to a tee.

Olivia Hirst (who also wrote the play) and Jim Crago, are both strong too, as Kay and Bode. Putting on a production with a cast of only three is always going to be a risk, but in this instance it paid off, as the small cast implied an unsettling sense of intimacy between the characters. Other characters are only referred too, but with greater frequency as the play moves on, providing the feeling that the outside is slowly closing in.

Though are occasional moments of awkwardness (some of Elle’s monologues don’t feel like they quite work) these are few and far between. Even the soundtrack, which at first is just annoying, seems to justify itself, through the contrast between Elle’s music preferences (Elvis Presley and Dolly Parton) and the commercial bubblegum pop that no teenager can escape, as well the ingenious use of an extract from an old Bill Hicks stand-up show.

‘Play for September’ is ultimately a play that embodies what the Fringe is all about: small cast, small company, great production.

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