Grief after the loss of a loved one is inevitable. Throw suicide into the mix and the consequence for those left behind is guilt of the truly toxic kind, that keeps its victims awake at night and forces them through a labyrinth of closed doors. There is never an end, just a series of unanswered questions. Such is the case for the key characters in a striking new play The Girl Who Fell from accomplished writer Sarah Rutherford, which focuses on the impact of the suicide of 15 year old Sam on her mother, boyfriend and best friend.
Set against the backdrop of the impact of social media on Sam’s suicide, the play is a 21st century exploration of the negative implications for our teens of oversharing online and the role we all have to play in ensuring their safety. It is this which will no doubt intrigue many parents and teenagers alike about the play and which certainly attracted me and my just 16 year old daughter to attend.
The act of “sharenting” is nothing new but with increasingly more surveys and stories released on the consequences of this, there is little doubt that it is forcing many to revisit not only the real life impact of their children’s actions online, but also their own.
Are parents who blog, tweet and post pictures about their children’s lives actually doing more harm than good? Certainly speaking from the perspective of a blogger, you are forced very early on to consider the implications of the stories as well as the pictures you post and more importantly to think beyond the short term good to the long term bad and it is this which compels many parents like me with teenagers, with their own demands for privacy to maintain a level of anonymity.
Beyond the boundaries of sharenting, is child shaming with humiliation at its core and it is a story of just such an episode whereby a girl took her own life after of a video of her father cutting off her hair went viral that inspired The Girl Who Fell, whereby Sam falls to her death after being exposed for inappropriate behaviour on social media.
Considering the subject matter of the play, what I wasn’t expecting was the humour and it is this which carries the play to a different level of engagement. Aside from the unanswered questions, death in whatever guise lends a poignancy to the life of those affected by the death of someone they love.
Sam’s boyfriend, Lenny and best friend, Billie who are twins, open the play and as is the way with teenagers, they throw you headfirst into the enormity of the situation with a hilarious and brutally honest discussion on death and its meaning. Throughout they juxtapose each other brilliantly. Lenny with his desperate bid to do the right thing and Billie with her refreshing, almost off-hand attitude and incessant littering of facts and quotes, which serve to help both her and everyone else to not only think and verbalise their thoughts and feelings but ultimately no doubt to cope.
Claire Goose as Thea, Sam’s mother is, as a mother watching the show, completely identifiable as she questions her own influence on the death of her daughter and her role is made even more poignant by her job as a chaplain, someone who we all no doubt, religious or not would hope to have all the answers in our time of need and of course she doesn’t, the validity of the afterlife being one.
Just when you think there is nowhere else to go with this story there is the seemingly random introduction of a fourth character, Gil whose true role only becomes clear towards the end of the play. In the meantime, however, he acts as a successful foil to the maelstrom of feelings experienced by the three main characters and lends Thea the introduction to some of her most poignant comments. Not least for me was his question “What kind of daughter was she?” which as a stranger to Sam delivers a much needed moment of reflection and gives the audience an insight into the person behind the tragedy.
A theatre critic I am not, but a lover of plays I am and with a teenage daughter studying drama, as a family we see a lot. On first impressions this may have passed us by as being less than a good watch, after all, teenage suicide doesn’t shout out as being a must see. But one thing I have learnt over the years is that it’s always the less obvious go-to plays that deliver and this is no exception.
I asked my daughter afterwards “What makes a good play for you?” By that I didn’t mean good theatre or good drama, she can wax lyrical about that until the cows come home after all. Her response was simply “Something that engages me and I can identify with.” For me I have to be challenged, forced to think outside my box and consider my own actions. Over the years I have found that those plays written and directed by those willing to explore new and perhaps sensitive territory are guaranteed to deliver and this one does it in spades.
So if you are a mother or father of teenagers, go see it. The Girl Who Fell is a tragicomedy at its best, with some simply brilliant acting. At its heart the story touches a nerve we can all as parents identify with in this social media age and I can guarantee that it keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout.
Editor’s Note: The Girl Who Fell is playing at Trafalgar Studios until 23rd November.
Disclosure: I was gifted two tickets for The Girl Who Fell with no obligation to review. However, as a lover of the theatre I love to pass on recommendations and have shared my thoughts openly and honestly – as always. x