Sarah Rutherford’s new play The Girl Who Fell tackles grief and guilt with sensitivity and humour in this darkly funny production, that mixes raw emotion with laugh out loud jokes.
Claire Goose is grieving mother Thea whose teenage daughter, Sam, committed suicide after a video of her hair being cut in punishment went viral. As Thea’s guilt causes her to spiral out of control, testing her faith and sense of reality, she is comforted by bickering teenage teens Billie (Rosie Day) and Lenny (Will Fletcher) as well as kind stranger Gil (Navin Choudhry). However, the other characters have their own secrets, their own reasons for feeling guilty and as each layer of truth is revealed the circumstances leading to Sam’s death become less and less clear.
Teen suicide might not seem like a topic for mining comedy but Rutherford finds a perfect balance between the emotional intensity of the story and the gallows humour of the characters. Whilst the story was inspired by real incidents of parents failing to understand the modern technological world and turning to social media to punish their children, this theme is not overplayed at the expense of the relationships between the characters.
The humour is definitely on the dark side but there are plenty of jokes that hit their mark and bring raucous laughter from the audience. Hannah Price’s direction keeps excellent pace with the material and understands that the jokes need time for the audience to respond. There was also a clever motif that, as the characters reveal new layers of their history with Sam, the set is also dismantled one section at a time by the cast until it is stripped right back.
It certainly helps the production that there are four excellent performances that skilfully tread the line between the emotions and the humour. Goose is outstanding at the struggling matriarch who is searching for answers. Her grief feels real and tangible so that the difficult choices made by the character seem nothing other than believable. Choudhry provides a quiet and gentle presence until the time comes for his character to reveal all. That moment is delivered with a self-reflexivity in keeping with the journey of that individual. Day is a force of nature as Billie, constantly in motion, full of energy but clearly hiding something. Her brutal putdowns are delivered with an innocence that just makes them even funnier, nothing is said with bitterness making sure that however awful the comment is, she does not stop being likeable. Fletcher provides a testosterone fuelled physical presence but keeps the immaturity of his character as a charming quality that makes the audience warm to his stupidity.
Georgia De Grey’s set is efficient without being remarkable. The characters move props about to seamlessly change scenes from a living room to a café to a cemetery without taking any significant pace out of the play. Given the confines of the small space in the Trafalgar Studio this was as much as could be achieved. Adrienne Quartly’s sound design initially seemed to jar, with noisy techno music covering the scene changes but this was actually cleverly foreshadowing later events.
This is a clever and funny play that has been staged impressively with excellent performances across the cast. Whilst the subject matter might not be to everyone’s taste there is no doubt it has been sensitively handled resulting in an enjoyable and thought-provoking experience.
Reviewed by Kris Witherington
Photo: Helen Maybanks
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