Trafalgar Studios, London – until 23 November 2019
It’s hard enough when any family member has attempted or committed suicide, but what if it was your own teenage daughter? How would you forgive yourself as a parent for not spotting signs of depression? Written by Sarah Rutherford and directed by Hannah Price, The Girl Who Fell broaches this sensitive subject and the Gordian knot of ‘blame’.
At the centre of this tale is Thea (Claire Goose), a prison chaplain, who is living in the aftermath of her daughter’s untimely death. Without even a ‘final note’ from Sam, her daughter, the ‘not knowing why’ eats away at Thea as she undergoes a crisis of faith.
Then there’s Billie (Rosie Day) and Lenny (Will Fletcher) – brother and sister who were Sam’s best friend and boyfriend respectively. One might think that if anyone had greater insight to Sam’s state of mind, it would be them. But despite what they know, they don’t have all the answers.
Squaring the circle is Gil (Navin Chowdhry). An anaesthetist by profession, a chance meeting with Thea in a ‘Gelato Palace’ provides the spark for the most unlikely of friendships. But both parties inadvertently ‘keep their cards’ to themselves, so when their respective guards are chipped away, it leads to some surprising revelations.
There is well-known saying: ‘Don’t speak ill of the dead’. While it’s intended as a mark of respect, this self-censoring from the bereaved in the play (especially Thea) leaves them unable to move on, or to see things with clarity. All the characters may have contributed to Sam’s final decision, but circumstantially at least, Thea’s ‘style of parenting’ is held responsible, from without and within. Of course, the way Sam’s mental health (like many teenagers today) was influenced by smartphones and social media may purely be a coincidence…
Far from being a ‘bland’ person without ‘vices’ or shut off from her emotions, Thea’s circumstances shapes her into a ‘seeker of truth’ – albeit of the emperical variety. Meeting Gil, however, brings an outsider’s perspective on her vocation and whether ‘comfort’ can be found in platitudes or acknowledging the painful aspects of existence.
The twins bring a much needed levity to the proceedings, though their personalities are poles apart. Billie gives the impression she is very knowledgeable, but she puts it down to her quotes app which she uses in lieu of social media. Still, there is much of what she says that makes (un)common sense and one way or another, has answers – or at least words to ponder. Much of what her brother Lenny conveys is via his body language and facial expressions, and Fletcher utilises this to maximum comic effect. Of all the characters, he is perhaps the most ‘honest’ and uncomplicated.
Clockwise: Will Fletcher, Navin Chowdhry, Rosie Day, Claire Goose
If anyone ever saw the Channel 4 TV programme Teachers, they would be aware of Chowdhry’s character ‘Kurt’ and what he brought to the mix. While there are similar self-deprecating traits between ‘Kurt’ and ‘Gil’, Chowdhry brings a candid earnestess to the proceedings, with Gil knowing all too well his foibles – how far he’s fallen and how much further he could ‘lose’.
Although there is plenty more to say in general on teenagers, social media, grief and hitting ‘rock bottom’, Rutherford weaves these disparate elements into a compelling tale that reminds us of the illusion of control and the hubris that accompanies the need to be ‘strong’, determined and ‘together’ all the time.