London Fringe

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The Independent Culture
It seems you're never too young to write a play. The Four Star Hotel, a curtain-raiser to the main body of the young writers' festival Coming On Strong at the Royal Court, was written by Jeananne Craig, aged 10. A wonderfully absurd 10-minute farce set in a hotel lobby, the piece grows increasingly fantastical, as more and more characters hurtle through the doors and even through the wall. It might not be deep, but it's a delightfully shrewd portrait of adults, it shows great relish of the possibilities of the stage, and it's short and funny.

The plays at the heart of the festival, by writers aged 15, 16, 21 and 22, are equally impressive. The teenagers (Hayley Daniel, 15, and Kevin Coyle, 16) both deal with the concerns of their own age group, though in very different styles. Daniel's painfully honest two- hander Looking For Home focuses on the damaging relationship between a mother and daughter, while Coyle's Corner Boys deals with peer pressure and the opposite sex. Coyle's touching comedy about a couple of Derry lads trying to engage with that mystifying species, the teenage girl, should be required viewing for all parents of teenagers.

The two older playwrights are more ambitious. In Rebecca Pritchard's fine Essex Girls, the wickedly funny first act, in which three schoolgirls wile away time in the toilets, is beautifully counterpointed by the second, which focuses on the empty life of one girl's 17- year-old sister. Gone is all the bravado and spirit of the schoolgirls; this down- trodden single parent sits in her tiny flat surrounded by dirty dishes as her peroxide friend tries to blast her out of depression with a barrage of non-stop talk. This is a mature piece, packed with one-liners yet devastatingly bleak about the prospects for young no-hopers.

The future looks grim too in Michael Wynne's black comedy The Nocky, a family drama set in the Kellys' council house in Birkenhead on Gran's birthday. As it emerges that on this estate sons will even steal from their parents to keep the real thugs at bay, Wynne skilfully builds up the moral conundrum at the heart of the play.

Finally, a quick word for Kaboodle's staging of King Lear, currently at the Bloomsbury Theatre. Lee Beagley's grizzled, tormented Lear leads a fine cast through a gripping production set in a brutal age. Excellent.

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