THEATRE lovers in Glasgow and beyond will be dismayed to learn that the redevelopment work on the city’s great repertory playhouse, the Citizens Theatre, has suffered yet another delay. It is now estimated that the theatre will not reopen until early 2024, almost six years after it closed its doors for what was originally planned to be a two-year regeneration project.

The Covid pandemic accounts for some of that delay, of course. However, one can’t help but wonder if politicians at Glasgow City Council and the Scottish Parliament will be seeking explanations for the sheer extent of the postponement from the primary building contractor Kier Construction.

It is on account of the prolonged closure of the much-loved Gorbals playhouse that the Citizens Theatre Company premiered its latest production, Moonset by Maryam Hamidi, at Glasgow’s Tron Theatre (ahead of a transfer to the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh).

Set among a group of working-class girls of varied backgrounds in contemporary Paisley, the drama considers the immense changes and challenges girls and young women face in the transition from adolescence to adulthood.

The National:

The play’s four teenagers – Roxy (who is of Persian heritage, and is played by Layla Kirk), Bushra (a Muslim girl of sub-Saharan African descent, played by Cindy Awor) and their white friends Gina (Leah Byrne) and Joanne (Hannah Visochhi) – have been learning at school about Scotland’s brutal history of persecution of women for supposed witchcraft.

It is this, perhaps, that inspires them to start up their own coven on a bit of fetid waste ground.

The drama that ensues involves enough issues to fill a few weeks of a TV soap opera. These range from anxiety about the late onset of menstruation, to child sexual abuse, and a sinister (and illegal) relationship between a controlling male in his 20s and a girl who is under the age of consent.

Multitudinous though its concerns are, the play’s pre-eminent plotline is that of Roxy and her beloved, single mother Shideh (Zahra Browne), who is suffering from cervical cancer. Laid out in bare synopsis, Hamidi’s piece might seem like a very tough watch indeed.

However, her play – in which the dialogue is punctuated by reflective monologues spoken directly to the audience – is delivered with a redemptive, youthful energy and an empathetic humour. The writing has real heart and the performances are universally strong.

The coven, which begins as a believable piece of adolescent adventurism, becomes an equally convincing force unto itself, as the desperate Roxy seeks supernatural assistance. Even in the midst of the play’s somewhat awkward dramatic structure, the witchcraft plotline manages to carry a moment of genuine shock.

Director Joanna Bowman keeps her production ticking along nicely, even if designer Jen McGinley’s symbolically cluttered set is cumbersome and distracting (not least when pieces literally, and unintentionally, fall off it). Nonetheless, the fine cast (who are choreographed excellently by Vicki Manderson) ensures that the production engages us from its memorable beginning to its emotive conclusion.

At the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, February 16-18: