‘Hot orange” is the name given to a basketball in this impressive writing debut for young audiences by Amal Khalidi and Tatenda Naomi Matsvai. The title captures the poetic glow of their hourlong two-hander. It conjures, too, the rush of first love, the burn of inherited shame and the lively pace of a sensitive play about a friendship that flickers into something else before being extinguished.
Director Chris Elwell and designer Sorcha Corcoran evoke both a sports court and a school playground through an immersive staging. The actors weave their way through the audience who either stand or sit on graffitied cubes and are handed various items of clothing and props by the performers, even sharing their crisps (Hula Hoops, a nice touch).
Matsvai plays Tandeki who encounters Amina (Yasmin Twomey) in Year 4 at primary school where they bond over basketball. But we first meet the pair a decade later, when they are reunited after a bitter estrangement. In an awkward exchange, they are curious about the other’s new life, defensive about aspects of their own, and manage to regain the fizziness of a new friendship.
The show then switches to and from their younger years, through games of make-believe, their religious households (Tandeki is Christian, Amina is Muslim) and family relationships. Tandeki both fears and idolises her older brother and comically creeps into his bedroom to wear his prized basketball shorts. That scene is mirrored when Amina uncomfortably models a “cute, girly girl” outfit proposed by her cousin on a shopping trip. Both friends are at the age of trying on new identities, and their worlds implode after a Frozen-style “true love’s kiss”.
The script is breezy, the conversation flowing and occasionally bubbling up into rhymes that never feel strained. The girls’ lines are powerfully repeated in Johnny Tomlinson’s sound design, as if lyrics to accompany the beats of his R&B compositions.
Aimed at over-13s, the show understands that time when you’re told to put away childish things and when the approach of adulthood feels both alluring and bewildering. Today’s school audience get a closeup masterclass in acting from Matsvai and Twomey, who share a natural rapport. If its final stretch hurtles a little too quickly through the pair’s years apart, this is a bittersweet gem about the ache to continue a kiss.