Edge of Seventeen

edge of seventeen
What Do You Expect Theatre?
Written by Laura Patricia Jones
Directed by Charlotte Peters
Horse and Stables Waterloo

by Jack Ratcliffe

Imagine Roald Dahl’s Matilda as a teenager in a world where she never possessed telekinetic powers: a troubled home life, an adult with a grudge and – most likely – a series of confusing relationships with boys. Edge of Seventeen’s equally precocious protagonist Lucy draws the parallel between the two bookish girls herself, but without magical powers, Lucy’s eroding sense of self-determination is the only thing that can protect her from brutal family relationships.

Although it’s easy to see Matilda in Edge of Seventeen, the play has a closer relationship with a Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale; albeit one with contributions from Game of Thrones’ author George RR Martin. Lucy’s step-father Michael fills the role of evil stepmother, although it’s poisoned words, rather than poison apples, that are his weapon of choice.

Throughout the play Michael is unforgiving in his verbal and mental assaults on Lucy. Even in his explanatory soliloquy, he is no more forgivable than Shakespeare’s Iago – an allusion weaponised by Lucy in one of their many fractious exchanges. This contemporary reboot of a fairy tale trope is perhaps the play’s biggest strength. Unlike Cinderella’s endless chores, these painful interactions feel real, relatable and therefore all the more bitter.

As her father is the story’s evil step-parent, it is her mother who fulfils the role of the powerless ‘true’ parent. However, unlike in stories of old, Ilona’s problems are explored: a battle with anorexia, lost youth and social alienation make her a pitiable, if not forgivable, character.

The fairy godmother is the only completely likeable character in Lucy’s life – her grandmother – who is played by the equally likeable Mary Benn. Respite is also sort in older boyfriend Martin, but he turns out, like so many loves, to be a false prophet. More relief comes from Lucy’s relationship with Ed, her best friend’s ex – isn’t life a complicated thing? Edge of Seventeen certainly feels real.

If there is a complaint with Edge of Seventeen, it is that even a boxer can only take so much of a beating. Watching the likeable Lucy endure 80 minutes of heartache, mostly from the men in her life, is hard – particularly without an unabashedly happy ending to help you recover. 60 minutes, or more stage time between Lucy and her best friend Amber, might make the step into playwright Laura Patricia Jones’ world a little easier for audiences.

Humorous moments provide some relief, but beware: it’s a dark tale. Edge of Seventeen shows that fairy tales aren’t dead, they’ve just moved onto the 257 bus route – and they don’t always have happy ending. A modern fairy tale in the most authentic sense, it’s an important play for a generation that has embraced Disney at the expense of reality. Watch it, even if you might not like it.

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