It is no bad thing that the London stage is finding space for a lot of new writing at present, writes Christopher Walker.
We must welcome producers taking on board the commercial risks involved.
Sarah Rutherford’s play The Girl Who Fell at the Trafalgar studios is part of this wave.
It is a raw play dealing with the highly topical issues of online bullying, parental monitoring, and spiralling teenage suicide.
Ambitious subjects lightened by an effort at dark comedy, by somewhat unbelievable characters.
Scottish writer Sarah Rutherford has acquired a reputation on the fringe for “sparky” dark comedy.
She is under commission to the wonderfully named feminist theatre company Scary Little Girls, and it is noteworthy that this new production, as well as having a female writer, has a female producer, a female director and a female designer.
It is a tough piece, running to an hour-and-three-quarters without an interval. Even with the comedy, it is sometimes difficult watching.
For in The Girl Who Fell, we are presented with the aftermath of a teenage suicide. Sam (the Girl) has killed herself leaping from a bridge following a poisonous internet episode.
We meet the central character, her single mother, Thea, as she seeks to bring the threads of her life back together after Sam’s death.
She is trying to come to terms with her own role in her daughter’s suicide, and her share of responsibility for it.
Because after finding shocking sexualised postings by her daughter (we are never quite told what these are) she has forcibly cut her daughter’s hair and videoed the act. The video itself found its way online and pushed Sam over the edge.
Claire Goose gives a strong performance as the struggling mother, Thea.
It is a hard role to play, as Thea is written as a woman priest, a prison chaplain, who nonetheless drinks heavily (indeed gives copious whisky to a 15-year-old boy), falls into bed with an attentive stranger, and even at one point shoots up with him.
This is done, supposedly in the rather unbelievable attempt to black out and experience a near death experience, somehow bringing herself closer to her dead daughter.
The stranger in question, Gil, is a rather too good to be true romantic interest, with plenty of dark secrets. It feels like a Jane Austen hero has wandered into a drug den. Navin Chowdry is nonetheless very compelling, and I was truly cross with the Reverend Thea when she encouraged this recovering drug addict to join her in shooting up.
Otherwise we have strong performances from Rosie Day and Will Fletcher, as Sam’s best friend and boyfriend respectively. They are also difficult roles, as both are supposed to be street-wise 15/16-year-olds, but at the same time behave in very naive, childish, ways.
Rosie Day captures her character, Billy, well, and is particularly annoying, whizzing around the small stage on a single roller blade.
We are not at all surprised to discover her own part in Sam’s suicide. Will Fletcher’s Lenny (her twin brother) is written as almost mentally subnormal, and a lot of the comedy is at his expense. It’s hard to see what Sam saw in him.
Overall, some strong performances, and at the core of this play there are some interesting, indeed important, themes. Like so many new works, The Girl Who Fell would benefit from feedback from the production team to the writer to bring these out more, and to cut weaker passages.
The Girl Who Fell by Sarah Rutherford plays at The Trafalgar Studios until November 23.
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