Growing up isn't easy and it's harder still if you don't fit in. Tangent (at the New Diorama Theatre until 9 June) tells two parallel stories of bright kids who don't quite fit in, but stay true to their principles and find a place as their peers learn wisdom the hard way.
Chloe, 16 and recently arrived in London after her parents' divorce, is very keen to do well in mathematics: her new classmates are not so keen on maths and soon are not so keen on Chloe either. There's a bit of a Mean Girls vibe going on leavened by an Inbetweeners style sense of fun. Chloe, with a bit of help from a somewhat inevitable too-earnest young teacher battles through and finds friends in unlikely places.
Sam, 15, is also a new arrival in a tough school, this time a battleship in Nelson's navy. He is also challenged to stay true to his principles, before gaining the trust of his peers and honouring a father whose disgrace had stalked the bright teeneager.
Writer Michael Mersea and Director Ed Bartram gain much from their approach of flipping from one story to the other, drawing out the parallels between two closed societies in which titular authority butts up against cultural norms that have to be learned and acted upon in order to survive. The nine actors play roles in school and on ship with a minimum of costume changes and a maximum of acting craft, adopting different accents and demeanours as the time frame shifts two hundred years in an instant. Amongst the largely young cast, Alexander Shenton is particularly impressive as both classroom joker and navAl Martinet and Erica Bartrum does some fine growing up in public in both her roles.
Tangent will appeal to any teen doing exams, indeed anyone who has ever had to grow up in a hurry. It's good to see that London theatre can offer such quality in new work and that American accents were not required in a production that sets itself ambitious targets - and achieves them.