If you don’t know the meaning of the word “sket” then you’re probably over twenty and live outside London. Let’s narrow it down – you’re almost certain not living in the inner city where teens now speak with a Caribbean ghetto patois whether they’re black, white or Asian.
As a “crusty” I had to Google it. Much of the language in Maya Sondhi’s compelling, provocative, and shocking new play, called Sket (it means ‘ho innit?) which opened last night at London’s Park Theatre will be baffling to adults – but that’s the point.
A generation from some of the poorest parts of the capital, which is striving for some sort of identity, has created its own language which us grown-ups are not privy to. It is about the only thing these teens have to call their own.
They seem to have no self-respect, no aspiration, no role models to emulate (other than Cheryl Cole). They live in a feral world where the Internet has numbed the effect of violence and girls are objectified and carelessly used for sex. Shockingly, the girls consider it the norm.
I was initially appalled – and then engrossed – and then appalled again, all in the space of an hour as this teen drama, that’s set in a deprived part of inner London, unfolded. Their world was completely alien to me. I didn’t recognise any of it. Is this really what life is like for today’s teens? It’s tragic. I felt so out of touch.
Is it so long ago since I was at school or my three kids were in class? What happened to innocence and childhood? Kicking a ball around in a playground, skipping, chatting about the latest chart hit? When did it all get taken away?
Emily, Daisy and Tamika make and break-up. Their lives revolve around looking good, being thin and being popular. They don’t care about exam results so long as they have cash to buy (in bulk) false eyelashes or a bucket of KFC with their mates.
Are we shocked when one of the girls has oral sex with two boys just to get a bit of spending money? I was more horrified that she didn’t see the harm in it.
Their mobile phones are almost permanently to hand. They take selfies, they Snapchat, they gossip – and they fall under the influence of teenage boys who encourage them to take “private” pictures which, before they know it, have been shared to hundreds.
The sneering, cocky JC (Tom Ratcliffe) uses his good looks to lure girls into posing for him. He tells them what they want to hear and he sells on their intimate images.
Sket is set in a comprehensive and the sole teacher we meet (played by Anna O’Grady) struggles to understand the kids’ language almost as much as she’s baffled by the yawning gulf between her life and theirs.
Sondhi hasn’t made it easy for the audience to like any of her characters but you end up feeling profoundly sorry for them. And it isn’t only the girls.
Leo (Romario Simpson) is starving because his mum has taken up with another bloke; Adam (Dave Perry) is struggling with his sexuality and terrified that his bigoted, racist dad will find out. Even the foul JC is burdened with his young sister’s care while his mum shuns them.
Sket opens a window which, at times, I wished had been kept firmly shut, but it is an absorbing, thought provoking and perceptive play about a subject that has been well-observed by its writer. What’s more, the cast are spot on with their powerful, angry performances.
Tessie Orange-Turner is superb as the girl’s ringleader, Tamika, who pouts, postures and oozes insolence and attitude. Laura Gardiner has fun with the brainless and comical Emily who buys her lashes from China (where they don’t have none).
There’s a moving, but momentary, glimpse of the child that she is (they’re all supposed to be 13 to 14 years) when she admits that the money-making sex was pretty rank. Her teacher is astonished by her nonchalance.
Olivia Elsden, as Daisy, is the most innocent and naive of them all and it’s beautifully played.
Growing up is tough and it seems to have got tougher. Teenagers have enough to deal with just getting through the regular stuff like school and home without the added pressure of gossip, social media, online bullying and sexting.
Sket is a harsh lesson in class politics and the meaning of friendship.
Running at the Park Theatre until May 14.
Maya Sondhi’s powerful, provocative and shocking teen drama, Sket, delivers a harsh lesson in growing up.