“a warm piece of theatre brimming over with emotional honesty”
Set in the aftermath of a tragic suicide, The Girl Who Fell is play about those left behind. Sam – a never-to-be sixteen year old – is the missing piece the story revolves around as it follows her family and friends grappling with loss and their own burden of guilt. This is a production where the walls come down – both literally and metaphorically. As the rustic, stripped-down set (Georgia de Grey) peels away block by block, so do the barriers the characters have put up to defend themselves, making for a warm piece of theatre brimming over with emotional honesty.
Each character has their own cross to bear with respect to Sam’s death. Claire Goose plays an instantly recognisable fraught mother battling for control, who is blamed by others for the suicide due to her harsh punishment becoming broadcast on the internet. Her superb performance is complimented by those of Rosie Day and Will Fletcher, who fill the roles of Sam’s best friend Billie and boyfriend Lenny so well that by the end of the play you have forgotten that the actors are not really teenagers. From the outset it is clear that these three have relationships with complex undercurrents, and throughout their stories they walk a messy, angry line between looking after each other and tearing each other down.
Introduced initially as a romantic interest for mum Thea, Gil (Navin Chowdhry) is the character last to the stage, and the slowest to unravel, but it is satisfying to see that he too is connected to the death in more ways than one. The script (Sarah Rutherford) times its key reveals and hooks well but is also full of refreshing doses of humour. Paired with Hannah Price’s direction, which brings a wonderful amount of movement and energy to a play about death, and the lighting (Robbie Butler) and sound (Adrienne Quartly), it delivers a tender and touching exploration of grief, blame, and the worst impulses in human nature.
Addressing such broad themes, the play almost seems timeless and that is perhaps its only failure. For all that Sam’s death can be seen as intrinsically linked to her life as part of the social media generation, the unique ways modern life can impact on being a teenager – and being a parent – seem to be largely glossed over in favour of an appeal to universalism. But, nevertheless, there is certainly lots of substance for viewers to contemplate. With its well-woven character backstories and sincere musings on faith, family, and forgiveness, The Girl Who is Fell is a rich treat of a story with wide-ranging appeal.
“a vibrant collage of the new and old, created by enchanting layered sound and stories that ignite the imagination”
Islander: A New Musical, which has a short run at the Southwark Playhouse this month, having transferred from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, is a new Scottish folktale about a breakaway island which drifts across oceans, following (or attending) the whales of the sea.
Eilidh (Bethany Tennick) cares for her jokey gran on the remote Scottish Island of Kinnen. While she struggles with a personal resentment towards her mother who left her to find work on the mainland, there is disquiet spreading across the island. Habitual concerns of a gnome gone missing and who is going to the local dance, are overshadowed. There will be a vote: sacrifice their home and head to the mainland or stay and struggle with the dearth of public services and jobs. Troubled times bring unusual events: Eilidh discovers a beached whale and then a mysterious washed-up girl called Arran whose tales of her mythical land, hidden in the mist, test Eilidh’s faith and help her find her way.
The story, written by Stewart Melton with lyrics by Finn Anderson is exquisite. With personification and repetition, the land becomes alive with “angry clouds” and its “earth-moving roar” creating a folkloric flavour. The power of the land and sea accrues with blue and turquoise lighting (Simon Wilkinson) which occasionally washes over the stage and the simple earth coloured costumes of the two-person cast. Harsher red and white lighting herald modern machinery, such as when we tune in to the radio, or tense human relationships such as the fast-paced dialogue between mother and daughter, which sees the magic surrender to harsh reality. Through this plainer lens, we realise how easy it is to lose faith in the mysterious.
Bethany Tennick plays a heart-warming Eilidh as well as a host of other characters, along with Kirsty Findlay, whose roles include Arran, who she plays with a beautiful innocence, and mischievous gran with her strong local accent. The two perform a perfect medley of synchronised movement and shared dialogue, conceived and directed by Amy Draper, which makes for a rich performance about friendship. Mid-song, a brief smile passes between the two revealing their shared enjoyment of performing this charming piece. It is rare but heart-warming to see a self-referential moment like this on stage.
The highlight of the performance are the soundscapes, created by two voices and loop-pedals to imbue a mystic atmosphere and create beautiful harmonies in the musical score as well as natural sounds. The set is somewhat lacking but instead the space is filled with a charged energy and the audience is completely transported. One of my favourite soundscapes is the tapping of fingernails on the microphone, creating a patter of rain on the run-down school roof.
Islander: A New Musical is a vibrant collage of the new and old, created by enchanting layered sound and stories that ignite the imagination: a re-imagined myth with undertones of current issues.