Fiesty teenager Tracey gets described as a “pocket rocket” by her school crush. Cue weak knees and a whole load of coy sideways glances, but Chewing Gum Dreams at The Shed is no cheery high school romp. The term pocket rocket had actually already sprung to mind as we watched writer and sole performer, Michaela Coel, dextrously bring together the animated highs (“we kissed for eight minutes!”), savage lows (“I’m smart enough to know I’m no one”) and the exquisite cruelty that can dominate teenage life.
Set in east London, where Coel herself grew up, we are first introduced to Tracey as she lollops onto the bus to school. We all recognise her, she’s that gobby so-and-so you spend your journey trying to avoid. But it’s not long before the guard is lowered and her vulnerabilities soon come to the fore.
Pinging from character to character (wheeler-dealer Fat ‘Lesha is a particular highlight), Coel leads us through the labyrinthine issues of race, class and growing up in inner city London — from the bus to school, home to club, street to bedroom. Does he like me? Why is my maths teacher such a bitch? Can I get pregnant without having sex? It’s eye-wateringly honest (would you expect anything else from a loud-mouthed 14 year old?) and often, hilariously funny. But the issues develop, and the questions change: why does she stay with him? Am I a good person? How do I cope? Do I deserve this? And soon enough, no one’s laughing.
At only 45 minutes it is a comparatively short performance but, packed with laughs, lows and Fat ‘Lesha’s sausage rolls, this is no criticism. It’s a pocket rocket of a performance.
Chewing Gum Dreams is at The Shed until 5 April. All tickets cost £12 and can be booked online or via the Box Office on 020 7452 3244.