Sarah Rutherford explores the dark side of social media in her new play The Girl Who Fell – but, on the plus side, she also has Twitter to thank for the play getting its premiere next month at Trafalgar Studios. We caught up with her during rehearsals. Time to get booking!
Teenager Sam is 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.
The Girl Who Fell is a poignant and darkly funny play about loss, guilt and Snapchat. It stars Claire Goose as mother Thea, Rosie Day and Will Fletcher as twins Billie and Lenny and Navin Chowdhry as Gil.
The premiere production is directed by Hannah Price and presented by Stage Traffic Productions and Eilene Davidson, whose previous acclaimed productions at Trafalgar Studios include the European premieres of Jordan Tannahill‘s Late Company and Ken Urban‘s A Guide for the Homesick and the world premiere of Katy Brand‘s 3Women.
Talking to… Sarah Rutherford
Author Sarah Rutherford is a former writer-in-residence at London’s Park Theatre, where her play Adult Supervision, set on the night of Barack Obama’s presidential election victory, premiered in a sell-out 2013 run following a staged reading (under the title I) at the Theatre Royal Stratford East starring Tara Fitzgerald. It was nominated as Best Off-West End Production in the 2014 WhatsOnStage Awards and longlisted for the Bruntwood Prize.
How useful was your residency at the Park Theatre?
It was a unique experience to be part of a theatre from before it was built until after my debut production was staged there. You learn a lot about how an entire building functions, from the ushers to the bosses, the bar to the loos — and where your role as a writer fits into the industry as a whole.
Your play Adult Supervision was set on the night of Obama’s election victory. Would you be tempted to write another play on the night of Trump’s victory?
It’s fascinating to look back at 2008 through the lens of today. Even my daughters, who were tiny at the time, remember that night — although to them it seems like a bit of a fairytale. How the hell did we get from there to here? In retrospect, the clues are there in that play — a darkly satirical comedy-drama about British attitudes to race, based on my own experiences as the mother of dual-heritage kids — even though it was written halfway through Obama’s time in office.
A play about the Trump victory? No. I don’t do depressing.
What was your initial inspiration for The Girl Who Fell?
The spark was a news article I read about someone caught up by chance in a teenager’s suicide. It led me to read up about the girl who died, and through that, I learned about the online trend of “child shaming”, in which parents use social media as a platform to humiliate their children by way of punishment.
It got me thinking about my generation, the first ones to bumble through parenting in a digital world — a world our kids know way more about than we do — in the absence of any previous generation to guide us with their experience. We’re all floundering, if we’re honest.
What do you love & loathe about social media yourself?
At its best, social media can be a great way to connect (and reconnect) — I’ve met some incredible people online and have gone on to have rewarding real-life alliances with some of them.
But we have to hold back from piling on. It’s so tempting, especially when someone has done something that seems patently wrong, to demonstrate your worthiness by trying to hammer home their wrongness. But I’ve seen a couple of people I know caught up in that kind of public shaming in the past year, and the fallout is heartbreaking.
Okay, take a pop at Trump and Johnson all you like, but we have to start pausing for breath before lighting our flaming torches and hunting down anyone with a lower profile than that. There’s almost always more to the story, and it’s hard to mend the damage done by a full-scale public shaming.
What changes would you like to see social media platforms make?
Facebook was founded on a misogynistic concept — FaceMash, the “hot or not” girl-ranking site — and it shows. I’d like to see women — and women of colour especially — much better protected on social media. It’s time we stopped being shut down for having opinions and censored for photos of breastfeeding, while being bombarded with porn and misogynist threats.
How did you come to work with Stage Traffic?
Through social media, funnily enough. I tracked down the phenomenal Stage Traffic producer Eilene Davidson on Twitter late last year, and sent her an invitation to a reading at Park Theatre. She was in New York at the time but read the script and sent her colleague Michael Yale along. As soon as she was back in the country, we met for a drink, hit it off, and before I knew it we had a production scheduled at Trafalgar Studios — directed by Hannah Price, someone I’ve wanted to work with for years.
I love the sheer range of work Stage Traffic have produced to date — they have great instincts, they’re open and inclusive, and they aren’t afraid to take risks.
Tell us about your cast for The Girl Who Fell.
I’m honoured to be working with three stellar actors with formidable bodies of work behind them — Rosie Day, Claire Goose and Navin Chowdhry— plus one astonishingly talented newcomer, Will Fletcher. All four roles are complex and challenging, and I’ve been so touched by the energy, intelligence and enthusiasm they’ve hurled into the work so far. Even the first readthrough was electric.
Why should audiences see The Girl Who Fell?
In spite of the dark subject matter, it’s a funny and hopefully uplifting play about love and loss — a short, punchy, entertaining and unsettling piece of theatre that I hope will spark a lot of conversations about our behaviour on- and offline. I think all generations will see themselves reflected there — and if I see some parents bringing their teenagers along (or vice versa), I’ll be very happy.
What’s next for you?
I have another play that’s looking for a home, and I’m currently working on a commission for feminist theatre company Scary Little Girls, plus a couple of big projects that I can’t talk about yet. I also have a number of film and TV projects in the early stages of development — some of them in my capacity as half of 2not2 Productions with actor Tanya Moodie — which will keep me busy for a while. But I’m always looking for new adventures.
The Girl Who Fell runs from 15 October to 23 2019 at Trafalgar Studios 2, 14 Whitehall, London SW1A 2DY, with performances Mondays to Saturdays at 7.45pm, Thursday and Saturday matinees at 3pm. Tickets are priced £20-£35. CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE!