Writer: Sarah Rutherford
Director: Hannah Price
Reviewer: Scott Matthewman
The death by suicide of a 15-year-old girl, and the grief and guilt that follow it, is the subject of Sarah Rutherford’s The Girl Who Fell, making its world premiere at Trafalgar Studios.
But while the subject matter may be intense, Rutherford’s script, particularly in its opening half, plays out as a macabre comedy. This is due in no small part to the pairing of Rosie Day and Will Fletcher as twins Billie and Lenny – the former Sam’s best friend, the latter her boyfriend.
Day and Fletcher imbue each sibling with off-kilter personalities that both reflect and contrast the other’s. Through their affectionate bickering, details of the circumstances surrounding Sam’s death emerge slowly, most notably that the pair blame Sam’s mother, Thea.
That sense of blame is shared by Thea herself, with a performance by Claire Goose whose restraint and introspection plays nicely against the children’s ebullience. Rutherford bases her story on a 2015 incident in the US, in which a girl’s suicide had been preceded by her father cutting off her hair as a punishment for sharing ‘inappropriate’ selfies on social media – an act which the father recorded, and video of which was shared and reshared in the days before the girl’s death.
The guilt and blame associated with such an act haunt Goose’s chaplain Thea, inspiring a crisis of faith that plays into the character’s grief. Director Hannah Price elicits subtle performances fro all three grieving characters, as well as offering an initial symbol of hope when Thea bumps into Navin Chowdry’s charming consultant anaesthetist in the local coffee shop where she regularly shared a sundae with her daughter.
The gaps in knowledge about what caused a girl to jump from a bridge into oncoming traffic propel a sense of mystery which, for the most part, plays out well. Chowdry is slowly revealed to have his own motives, while Leah’s slow descent into seeking near-death experiences as a means of feeling close to her late daughter is kept on the right side of absurd by a moving performance from Goose.
But the unfolding mystery is also where Rutherford’s otherwise taut and involving plotting occasionally threatens to go awry. One of the central characters is revealed not once, but twice, to have more knowledge than previously admitted as to the circumstances of Sam’s death. Each revelation seems to come from nowhere, driven by the need for a reveal to propel the story and without the burden of such knowledge sitting well with the character as we have come to know them.
But such concerns are minor in a play which otherwise holds together extremely well. That is thanks to four performances which all feel finely judged – but it is Day as Billie, the precocious force of nature, who feels compulsively watchable.
Continues until 23 November 2019