We hear far more frequently than we would like about the growing number of young people who are taking their own lives, and all too often the role that social media has played in their actions. Sarah Rutherford’s The Girl Who Fell, directed by Hannah Price makes its world premiere at the Trafalgar Studios and approaches this subject from an angle many of us may not have considered.
The girl referred to in the title is Sam, she is already dead by the time the play begins, having fallen – or jumped – from a bridge. Left behind is her grieving mother, a prison chaplain left questioning her own faith in the face of tragedy. Teenage twins Billie and Lenny were Sam’s Best friend and boyfriend respectively, they too are grieving in their own way, while fourth character, Gil, has also been affected by Sam’s death and had his world turned upside down.
Despite the heavy subject matter, Rutherford injects vast amounts of humour in to the script. Much of this comes from the innocence of the teenage twins, or those awkward moments where someone doesn’t know the right thing to say and ends up saying the worst thing instead. This provides much needed realism in to The Girl Who Fell, anyone who has experienced grief knows that it is the unexpected moments of laughter that help us to heal.
The role of social media is very cleverly and subtly integrated in to the play, and Rutherford explores a phenomenon of ‘shaming and sharenting’ the concept of parents using their children’s own social media platforms against them. From embarrassing baby photos to more drastic forms of punishment, The Girl Who Fell takes inspiration from a real life incident where a teenager had all her hair cut off by her parents and the video posted online.
Of course, grief is front and centre in this production, but the way it is handled between the generations is remarkably well explored, for Sam’s mother, Thea, and her new found friend, Gil the grief is painted on their faces and broken bodies. For the teenagers, the grief seems not to have affected them, on the outside anyway, it’s only as they start to reveal their secrets and inner most thoughts that we see the way they have been affected is just as damaging.
Hannah Price’s direction makes for a captivating watch, The Girl Who Fell is staged with a rhythmic precision which sees Georgia De Grey’s set slowly dismantled, marking the passage of time and the growing sense of loss. Claire Goose gives a remarkable performance as Thea, slowly ramping up the pressure of a woman who feels she is to blame for her daughter’s death, and knowing she will never be able to get the answers she seeks.
It is Rosie Day and Will Fletcher, as Bille and Lenny, who give us the most to enjoy. Their wide-eyed innocence giving way to darker thoughts and actions. Day in particular keeps the audience on their toes, leaving us wondering if Billie is really as naïve as she makes out, while Fletcher uses his facial expressions and body movements to great effect.
The Girl Who Fell succeeds in being a moving piece of theatre, with a kind of humour which feels entirely fitting with the situation. Just like in life, this play doesn’t offer up easy answers but instead asks us to question ourselves and our motivations, and in the current age feels wholly modern, relevant and compelling.