I'm never overly thrilled to find that the writer of a piece is also starring in it (or, perhaps, that the lead actor wrote it, depending on your perspective), as in such situations either the acting or the writing usually suffers. However, Michelle Ashton, who plays troubled fifteen-year-old Lucy in her own play, seems to have talent to burn: her performance is spot-on and highly watchable, and the writing's not too shabby either. Her co-star Jog Maher, playing forty-year-old divorced Will, the school counsellor to whom Lucy's English teacher recommends her, is a worthy foil for Ashton: patiently, he strips away Lucy's surly and defensive front to reveal a clever, lonely girl of unexpected (and sometimes frankly unbelievable) articulacy.

Lucy hasn't had a stellar academic career: stabbing her fellow-students with Biros and other misdemeanours have got her kicked out of not one but two previous schools, and she's on her last warning. It's Will's job to find out what's really going on with her, and over an hour and a quarter of stage time (no interval) both their inner lives are revealed with, for the most part, impressive finesse and credibility – thanks in no small part to Karl Barnsley's sensitive direction, as well as the undoubted talents of the actors.

Anyone who's seen David Mamet's Oleanna will be familiar with the set-up; an older male authority figure is confronted and challenged by a younger female – in both cases, a student – whose power-games force him to examine his own life and choices. But Fine is a gentler, less haranguing piece: it's rooted in realism and doesn't rely on Oleanna's snarling showdowns. In fact, its occasional moments of shouting and high drama seem almost to have come from another play, and don't suit the thoughtful narrative in which Will and Lucy grow to understand and accept one another.

It's difficult to discuss the plot without littering this review with spoilers, but suffice it to say that the blossoming attraction between the two characters is delicately handled and doesn't (thank God) end up as a sort of Mancunian Lolita; instead, the relationship and connection between them is resolved in an emotionally satisfying and rather moving final scene, when Lucy's various fictions about herself are finally dropped.

Generally, Ashton's script is witty, convincing and well-paced (the penultimate confrontation scene when Lucy pulls the inevitable "I'll tell them you touched me" line, perhaps excepted), and even the tiny Tuesday night audience responded with rapt attention and the odd giggle. Admittedly, some aspects of the play are rather hard to swallow; the fact that Lucy doesn't already have a qualified psychiatrist, social worker or Youth Justice Officer; Will's going well beyond the call of a school counsellor's duties by picking her up from the cop-shop at 9pm; Lucy's arch and somewhat out-of-character exit lines that close each scene; the fact that one 50-minute session finishes after 10 minutes with no protest from Will, instead of the lights just going down.

However, if you're willing to allow for some dramatic licence and suspend your disbelief, this is an intelligent and enjoyable play with a surprisingly soft heart – maybe the kids are going to be all right after all?

Fine, at Lion and Unicorn TheatreKaty Darby reviews Fine at the Lion and Unicorn theatre.4