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Lit review at Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh – ‘a promising debut play’

Tiger Cohen-Towell and Eve Austin in Lit at HighTide Festival. Photo: Craig Sugden
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This debut play from emerging Midlands-based writer Sophie Ellerby, reveals her as a voice with plenty of potential. Lit is structurally squiffy and overlong, but it has an infectious energy and excoriating anger that burn bright throughout. Reminiscent of the work of Gary Owen, the writing is patchy, but shows huge promise.

The play follows a troubled teenage girl – Bex – as she attempts to navigate an ugly, uncaring world. Her mother is dead, her foster carer can’t look after her, and her boyfriend and his brother are bad news, getting her paralytically drunk and popping pills at their caravan every weekend. The only real comfort Bex can get comes from her geeky, Harry Potter-reading pal Ruth.

The stakes are high from the start, and only get higher. Some longer, quieter moments are sorely lacking, but there’s a tragic authenticity to Bex that keeps the audience engaged nonetheless.

As Eve Austin’s performance makes clear, she’s just a damaged kid playing at being grown-up. The rest of the six-strong ensemble don’t convince – there are a few miscasts, too – but Austin holds it all together superbly, sobbing and screaming herself hoarse.

Stef O’Driscoll’s staging – a co-production between HighTide and Nottingham Playhouse – is cool but feels clunky at times. Two halves of a caravan, outlined in shifting neon tubes, are constantly being dragged around the stage to a soundtrack of hyped-up hip-hop. It looks and sounds great, but the scene changes each take about two minutes, disrupting the rhythm of Ellerby’s writing. No doubt it will work better on tour, in less stuffy spaces.

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Promising debut play about a troubled teenager, given a cool if clunky staging