WE live, it barely needs to be said, in turbulent times. As sea levels rise, wars rage and police brutality is exposed, a defining feature of many of the protest movements that have arisen has been the role of schoolchildren within them.

This has been true, most famously, of the global school strikes for the climate, started by then Swedish school pupil Greta Thunberg in 2018. However, youth activism is a thread in many of the social movements, from Black Lives Matter to trans rights.

Protest, the new play by Scottish writer Hannah Lavery, explores this political phenomenon through the lives of three girls in a Scottish school. Alice (played by Kirsty MacLaren) is the fastest runner in the school, and she is heartily sick of boys being chosen over her for the key positions in the relay team.

The National: Hannah LaveryHannah Lavery

Meanwhile, Jade (Tamara Fairbairn) is angry about the racism she is subjected to, and by the fact that school histories of the Second World War fail to celebrate the role played by people from Britain’s colonies, such as her grandparents, who contributed so much to the fight against Nazi Germany. Finally, Chloe (Esmé Kingdom) – who is somewhat lacking in confidence, and struggling with the separation of her parents – is, nevertheless, passionate about taking action to save the environment, starting with her town and her school.

Through these three stories – which are, ultimately, interconnected – Lavery gives very recognisable personalities to girls who come to activism through their own life experiences. Directed sharply by Northern Stage’s artistic director Natalie Ibu, the piece is performed on a fabulously colourful set designed by Amy Jane Cook, which looks like an ingeniously abstracted children’s playground.

As we have come to expect of Lavery, from stage works such The Drift and Lament for Sheku Bayoh, the writing has a great deal of heart and commitment. It also has nice moments of wry observation, such as the well-intentioned head teacher Mrs Lomax (who is trying hard to be as woke as she can be) stumbling into a clumsy description of British armed forces members from colonised countries as “our friends in the Empire”.

All three actors are superb, telling their stories with formidable energy and sympathy. Taking alternate turns in dispensing parts of their character’s narrative, they are performing, not dramatic dialogue, so much as three interlocking prose fictions.

The action of the play, including the exciting and hopeful convergence of the girls’ stories, takes place, not in an enacted present, but in a recounted past. This presents difficulties for actors and director when it comes to generating and maintaining dramatic momentum.

That said, the production (which boasts a fresh, engaging soundtrack by Novasound) creates more than enough goodwill for theatregoers, young and old, to happily forgive the occasional awkward gear change.

Co-commissioned and co-produced by Northern Stage, London-based theatre company Fuel and Imaginate (producers of the Edinburgh International Children’s Festival), in association with National Theatre of Scotland, Protest is a timely and humane piece for children aged eight to 13.

Touring Scotland May 9 to June 2: nationaltheatrescotland.com