Play For September[author-post-rating] (4/5 stars)

From its opening moment to its final word , Play for September involves and unnerves. By turns wickedly funny and deeply harrowing, Lost Watch Theatre company offers a touching portrait of that ‘difficult age’ – first love, best friends and bad decisions abound in an impressive balance of comedy, crisis and catharsis. Writer Olivia Hirst, who also plays fiercely self-possessed schoolgirl Kay, is an accomplished and resonant voice, with an ear for the absurd natter of teenager girls: their idiosyncratic codes and keywords, their ricochet between endearing arrogance and crippling insecurity.  Taking place over the course of one academic year, Play for September is deft and resolutely un-sensationalist in its investigation of a student-teacher relationship that drags the three people involved into dark and dangerous emotional territory.

Elle (Rianna Dearden) isn’t really like other teenage girls her age. She likes Dolly Parton, confiding in her mum and reading up on Freudian psychology. Most of all, she likes her best friend Kay, an outgoing girl with a troubled past, any trace of which evaporates when the friends are together. But there’s trouble in paradise when ‘Bode’, (played with comic inventiveness and impressive restraint by Jim Crago) enters their lives. Young and disillusioned, with a filthy mouth and wry sense of humour, Bode seems to buckle under the strain of the authority figure role he is meant to uphold, preferring to socialise with the students who idolise him. Maybe it’s something about their relentlessly energy and shameless optimism that draws him towards them, because that’s what he’s lost – in those moments where he is alone on stage at his desk, we see a man ever on the periphery, not young and vibrant enough to be one of the kids, not together enough to be a fully-functioning adult. It’s this initial empathy that sets up our strange, uneasy complicity with the ultimately traumatic tryst between him and Kay, an appalling and unforgiveable affair that alters the lives of all involved.

Even as the plot plays almost exactly according to nightmarish tabloid horror story, Play for September presents itself with subtlety and an emotional complexity that refuses to resolve itself neatly. Whilst it certainly bears some hallmarks of a work in progress, Play for September remains a bracing and mature work from a confident young company.

Play for September is playing at the Pleasance Courtyard as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival until 26 August. For more information and tickets, please visit the Edinburgh Fringe website.