Trafalgar Studios, London – until 23 November 2019
Guest reviewer: Claire Roderick
The aftermath of a teenager’s death really shouldn’t be this funny, but Sarah Rutherford has created a thoroughly modern, soul-searching and hilarious play.
The sketchy details of 15-year-old Sam’s suicide are revealed slowly throughout the production as those closest to her struggle with their grief and guilt. The finger of blame points firmly at Sam’s mum Thea (Claire Goose) and her misguided act of discipline, but Sam’s friend Billie (Rosie Day) and her twin Lenny (Will Fletcher), who was also Sam’s boyfriend may be hiding their own culpability from the world and themselves. Thea meets Gil (Navin Chowdhry) in a coffee shop, but is the charming stranger all he seems, and does he have a connection with Sam?
The effect of social media on teenagers is tackled without hysteria, with the two teenagers’ conversations keeping the play from becoming too moralising. Sam’s peers’ reactions to her posts are authentic, and Thea’s extreme response is based on a real-life incident. There is an online community of parents who discipline/humiliate their children, record it and upload it – sharenting is a shockingly real thing that proves that it’s not only children who get seduced into doing stupid stuff online.
Rutherford nails the awkward nonsense that people come up with to fill silences and gives Thea some cracking one-liners oozing with sarcasm and frustration as she has to cope with sympathetic friends, vitriolic accusers and humanity in general.
Goose is fascinating to watch as Thea, portraying her whirlpool of emotions with quiet intensity and integrity. Chowdhry is charmingly ambiguous as Gil. The twins carry the play, keeping in character with hilarious silent bickering even in scene changes as they gradually deconstruct the set, as the characters’ defences and lives break down. (A masterstroke from director Hannah Price, who gives the whole production an organic, unrushed flow.)
Both actors capture teenage body language and attitudes brilliantly. Fletcher’s wide-eyed naivety and man-child body language are brilliant as Lenny struggles to cope with his sister’s reaction to Sam’s death. His scene with a drunken Thea as they celebrate Sam’s 16th birthday is comedy gold. Rosie Day, whizzing about the stage on her one heely reciting from her quote a day app, is every cocky, petulant teenage girl that has driven you mad, but with an underlying gentleness and wisdom that makes even the bluntest of her comments lovable.
Her maturity shines through when she saves Thea and Gil and is able to admit what she did to Sam because of her childish jealousy and fear of being left behind by her best friend and brother. These are messy characters, with messy emotions and lives, and the unresolved search for a reason for Sam’s suicide feels justified, as there is no simple explanation or cause. The characters’ beginning to accept this fact and trying to continue with their lives is the perfect ending, played for bittersweet laughs.