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The Awkward Years review at the Other Room, Cardiff – ‘funny and unsettling’

Lauren O'Leary in The Awkward Years at the Other Room, Cardiff. Photo: Kirsten McTernan Lauren O'Leary in The Awkward Years at the Other Room, Cardiff. Photo: Kirsten McTernan

The Other Room’s latest season kicks off with a stripped-back, one-woman play that is both funny and unsettling. Lily (Lauren O’Leary) is 27 years old, stuck in a minimum-wage job as a leisure centre lifeguard, and caught in a joyless spiral of binge-drinking and meaningless sex. When even her dependable best friend grows out of the cycle of Jagerbombs and hangovers, Lily finds herself at a crossroads.

The Awkward Years is a very modern coming-of-age tale, exploring the limited possibilities for today’s 20-somethings who have come through a college education yet can find no way beyond the student lifestyle.

Matthew Bulgo’s script and Lauren O’Leary’s performance – an impressive professional debut – brilliantly evoke the shame of a life spent in perpetual self-loathing. Yet, refreshingly, Lily is a character that doesn’t beg for, or need, the audience’s sympathy. There’s plenty of defiant wit in the monologue and in O’Leary’s unapologetic delivery. Her showdown with a lecherous boss is a particular highlight.

Dan Jones and movement director Krista Vuori create a frenetic atmosphere, the action interspersed with spiky dances as the character rallies against the demons she hides. Those demons come in the shape of a guilty memory that is slowly revealed as the source of her decline.

But herein lies a problem: though this material is skilfully handled, there’s little here we haven’t already seen in Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag. Inevitable comparisons are a shame as, observed as a standalone piece, this is a very good play.

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Well-observed monologue, and a strong debut from actor Lauren O'Leary