Sarah Rutherford is a fine writer with a penchant for turning social issues into theatrical drama. Like most new writing her play, The Girl Who Fell, ensures its topic is wrenched from headlines and editorials that saturate the daily press – reportage that no talk-show host gives a hoot about until it become newsworthy. No, it’s not same-sex marriage, transgender or race hatred.
The Girl Who Fell is a comedy drama about the weaponising of social media by vengeful teens and misguided parents who wield it as a tool to name and shame their supposed loved ones. This publicising of child wrong doings, available to a community of internet users, can be likened to a thirst for public executions, quenched only by a subsequent teen suicide.
In Rutherford’s play, teen queen Sam, leaps (falls?) to her death after being exposed for inappropriate behaviour on social media. In the aftermath of apportioning blame for the event, her mother, a boyfriend and a best friend, struggle with their own feelings of retribution and guilt.
The mother, Thea (Claire Goose), pushes hard against the reality of her daughter’s death, imbibes copious amounts of hard liquor and quotes passages from the bible and the philosophical musings of Albert Camus.
The twins, Sam’s boyfriend Lenny (Will Fletcher), and best friend Billy (Rosie Day), both blame and befriend Thea in an intriguing dyad of wanton playfulness that flows between brother and sister as they circle one another in whirlpools of honesty and cynicism about Sam’s deadly fate.
The effectiveness of Billy whizzing ’round in a lopsided skate, hurling verbal juggernauts at Lenny, is a credit to the imaginative direction of Hannah Price, as is Lenny’s weird Halloween costume (Zahra Mansouri) that gives a wink to the film Donnie Darko.
And what a succinct play it might have been without the introduction of a fourth character, Gil (Navin Chowdhry), whose appearance becomes a contrivance that breaks the more intriguing relationship between Thea and the twins.
It’s possible that Gil’s character is offered as an accent to the surreal aspects of the piece but it introduces a convoluted circumstance that reduces The Girl Who Fell to a bad TV sitcom. Think Friends on oxycodone and you’ve got it. Or maybe the aftermath of death is like an opioid overdose and I missed it.
This is not a criticism of Chowdhry’s performance. Indeed, the audience laughed raucously as Gil couldn’t help but tell on himself, revealing the darkness of his spurious deeds. But the play stands without his inclusion, as does some of the themes that work to cloud the narrative, such as Thea’s recollection of being groped on public transport. I found myself looking at my watch and thinking ‘why is the character telling us this’.
But the clever aspects of The Girl Who Fell make up for its shortcomings. In particular, the set design (Georgia De Grey) a simple farmhouse-type door and wood-framed window that introduces a hyper-real nightmarish effect: I half expected Dorothy (The Wizard of Oz) and Alice (From the Looking Glass) to pop their heads through the window. This permeating sense of unease is also reflected in the use of garish lighting (Robbie Butler), which mirrors the internal life of the play’s fractious characters.
At one hour and forty minutes, The Girl Who Fell seemed overly long and with too many extemporaneous bits, like a play in the process of being workshopped. However, it is also deliciously inventive in its depiction of suicide as a puzzle, and the people it leaves behind to slot in the pieces.
Review by Loretta Monaco
It seems wrong that she experienced something so huge without me.
Like if your kids had sex before you did.”
Teenager Sam’s dead.
After some social media foolishness.
And everyone says it’s her mum’s fault.
When bereaved mother Thea sets off on a mission to find out why her daughter Sam is dead, she is joined in her journey by bickering teen twins Lenny and Billie, plus Gil — a lost-soul whose life collides with theirs in a way that can only ever get messy.
This poignant and darkly funny play about loss, guilt and snapchat, stars Navin Chowdhry (Gil), Rosie Day (Billie), Will Fletcher (Lenny) and Claire Goose (Thea), and runs for a strictly limited season at Trafalgar Studios from 15 October – 23 November, with press night on Thursday 17 October.
The Girl Who Fell is directed by Hannah Price, with designs by Georgia de Grey, lighting by Robbie Butler and sound by Adrienne Quartly.
Book Tickets for Trafalgar Studios