Theatre review: If This Is Normal, ZOO Playground, Edinburgh

The highs and lows of teenage life are skilfully evoked in Lucy Danser's new play.
If This Is Normal, ZOO Playground (Venue 186)If This Is Normal, ZOO Playground (Venue 186)
If This Is Normal, ZOO Playground (Venue 186)

If This Is Normal, ZOO Playground, Edinburgh * * * *

Powerfully performed by a first-rate cast it's a funny sugar-rush of exceptional energy until suddenly, yet with almost tragic inevitability, it takes a turn into genuinely troubling waters.

Madani (Isambard Rawbone) and Maryam (Zarima McDermott) are brother and sister growing up in Kilburn who form an immediate bond with the new girl at school, Alex (Aoife Smyth). Over the ensuing years the characters develop but the friendships just deepen. Maryam becomes increasingly committed to sexual politics and doesn’t believe in monogamy, Alex is sexually reticent but secretly thrilled that she might marry the first guy she sleeps with while Madani searches for suitable male role models and focuses his energy into boxing and fitness.

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They’re still developing as people - even the preternaturally smart Maryam - but they’re fully rounded as characters. Danser’s remarkably subtle script nails the twilight ghost world of adolescence, when you still bear some traces of the child you were and are facing the unknown scary territory of adulthood.

The intensity of the relationships is such that you feel you should know where this is going but you won’t. You’re having such a blast hanging out with these three dancing, drinking and clubbing - it’s a furiously energetic production by director Helena Jackson - there’s no sense that anything could go wrong - until something does. To specify where this does go would be a disservice to Danser’s script but it’s fair to say it deals with sexual politics. It feels like a natural progression yet it’s also startlingly effective. It’s so subtly handled that it could be designed to provoke discussion yet it doesn’t feel like polemic.

It’s funny and sad in almost equal measure but also underscored by a note of optimism. An authentic portrayal of the joys of adolescence that makes you glad it’s well behind you.

Until 26 August