When the love of Kay’s life dumps her for her best (and only) friend, she resolves to build a soapbox car and race down a hill in an attempt to win him back. Kay knows that this is not how it really works. But if Plan B is a school trip to Belgium, does she really have a choice?
Life is not so rosy for Kay; her mum has left the family, and she’s stopped talking with her father in the year or two that have gone by. Kay is sure that he won’t approve of her plan to enter the Soapbox race and tricks him into signing the consent form, before setting to work on building her vehicle. Of course, it’s not long before he comes to discover the source of the clattering from the garage.
As the scenes tick by, marked by a voiceover recounting the rules of the Soapbox Race, Kay comes to appreciate the value of her Dad’s common sense and practicality - as she says, she herself is really rather stronger on the overall concept than details like wheels that steer. As the two reconnect, the worth or otherwise of her other relationships comes into focus.
Kay is an effervescent teenager; there is still a lot of the little girl in her, and she is most definitely not cool. Grace Cordell captures her excitement, confusion and good-heartedness. It is a wonderfully engaging performance as she connects with the audience, reacting to their laughter and building a rapport, putting us all definitely on Kay’s side. Cordell also neatly captures the other characters: Kay’s taciturn father, her much cooler best friend Vicky, and a younger Kay, instantly recognisable yet distinctively different.
Her flights of fancy are wonderfully imaginative as we get caught up in Kay’s hopes and dreams. The story is told with just a few props: a chair, a beanbag and a wheel, all bright primary colours, reflective of Kay’s cheerful outlook on life.
With its whimsical approach to teen problems Soapbox Racer feels like it comes from a simpler time, but it makes no pretensions to intellectual heft or the deep and meaningful. Rather, Ben Schwarz’s play is full of life and joy, and it would take a miserable soul not to leave with a smile on your face. It is an utterly charming play, a funny script, carried off with great aplomb by a wonderful performer. I’d recommend it to anyone.