Fourteen – Review

Fourteen

A previous play by Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti was sensationally shut down after almost causing a riot.

Fourteen, a coming-of-age drama which ran at Watford Palace Theatre last week, was far less controversial.

But it did have a couple of moments which passed by so subtly that the shock of them took a while to register.

Bhatti grew up in Watford and has used the town as a backdrop for a one-woman performance by actress Yasmin Wilde.

I don’t know how biographical the story is but it’s a thought-provoking snapshot of family life.

Wilde spends the first half as an unnamed, westernised, 14-year-old agnostic Sikh, the only child of a traditional couple who are never seen but are frequently heard rowing.

The audience learns that the teenager has little respect or interest in her mother and the feeling appears reciprocal.

But she does love her father – until she witnesses something unspeakable – and then life is never quite the same again.

It’s 1984 and the girl has a potentially glittering future ahead of her.

She thrives at school, is university material, squeezing in her homework around Blockbusters; has a crush on her best (girl) friend; and boys in her class, who once sang in the choir, now wear Harringtons and skin-heads, to prowl the streets looking for trouble.

Fast forward to the present day and our unnamed protagonist is now a single mother of a 14-year-old girl. She scrapes a living by charring for Yummy Mummies and the pair live a hand-to-mouth existence. Where did it all go so wrong?

It’s an interesting concept. Those early teenage years are fraught with stress at the very time vital exams must be faced. A step wrong and the future isn’t so rosy.

Wilde gives a commanding performance, going from wide-eyed and excited teenager to exhausted and defeated mum, but she is let down by weak writing.

Bhatti overdoes the local references. It sounds as though she’s dredged up the name of every shop, TV programme and geographic location from 1980’s Watford and tried to cram them into the monologue until there’s very little else.

It makes for laboured dialogue with some of the humour falling flat on audience members not au fait with the neighbourhood. Fourteen is a play that won’t travel well.

The second act is by far the more powerful as the mum struggles to do the best for her daughter only to be condemned by the unseen and humiliated teen.

It’s not easy being a parent.

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