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Review: Instructions For A Teenage Armageddon (Garrick Theatre)

Review by Daz Gale

 

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

 

With no shortage of one-man-plays and one-woman-plays around, writer Rosie Day pondered why there were no one-girl-plays so decided to write one herself, setting out all the things she wanted to say to teenage girls that are so rarely said – and Instructions For A Teenage Armageddon was born. Having already generated a buzz, and been turned into a novel and an upcoming TV series, it now gets its West End debut, popping up at the Garrick Theatre on Sundays for a limited season – but would the impact many felt from its previous London run still be felt when moved to a larger West End space?



Instructions For A Teenage Armageddon sees a teenage girl struggling to come to terms with the death of her older sister. Having to deal with the many difficulties being a teenager throws at you, this particular girl has an especially rough ride, experiencing some of life’s biggest difficulties and some particularly traumatic incidents. Ultimately, this is a guide in everything teenage girls need to know to navigate those difficult years, with the narrative coming together to act as a guide.

 

Rosie Day’s writing impresses throughout, refreshing in its approach. Its unfiltered and occasionally unconventional way of conveying the story creates a naturalistic dialogue that is often funny (sometimes darkly so) but with no shortage of weight, carrying with it so much depth and emotion. Set as an 80-minute monologue, the conversational style of our predominantly nameless teenage girl attempts to break down barriers not just in the subjects so often left unsaid but also of that between the audience and the actor, giving a sense of intimacy that contradicts the larger size of the West End space.



Using the idea of the teenage girl joining a Scout group and collecting badges is an inspired touch, with each badge focusing on another part of her journey as a teenager, drawing playful parallels that often land with an impactful punch. Not the easiest of watches at times with some deeply unsettling subjects never glossed over but touched upon with such sensitivity and realism. The over-arching theme of the loss of the nameless Girl’s sister Olive hangs over the narrative as Girl deals with all the many stages of grief, though Instructions For A Teenage Armageddon goes beyond that, particularly in a harrowing sequence involving abuse. The way Day manages to write about tragic circumstances with humour is impressive in itself, with one particularly memorable line referring to a wake as an afterparty as a fine example of this.

 

Without spoiling the outcome of the show, Instructions For A Teenage Armageddon has a great comparison to its goal of helping people watching it who may need to hear these words with an aspect of the story seeing Girl paying it forward. In what is one of the funniest parts of the story for the most part, this comes with a satisfying conclusion that tugs at the heartstrings, before making you laugh once more.



Georgie Staight’s direction is firmly in sync with Day’s writing, finding the best ways for her effortlessly accessible writing to shine through. With Jasmine Swan’s set design centering the stage on an anonymous and fairly blank teenage bedroom, this allows for great lighting from Rory Beaton and video from Dan Light to transform the setting in increasingly and glorious ways. All of these elements allow Day’s writing, Staight’s direction, and our sole actors performance to shine through to their full potential.

 

The role of the cast member known only as “girl” (though there is a revelation around her name which I won’t spoil) is played by Charithra Chandran, making her West End debut. In a demanding and exhausting performance, Chandran remains on the stage for 80 minutes, taking the audience on a non-stop, heart-pounding, and grittily realistic adventure through her teenage years. Chandran navigates these complexities with such flair, it is astonishing to watch. A truly gifted performer, she can channel the emotional depth of any line while delivering the more comic lines with the most understated of mannerisms. The effect of this amplifies the already exemplary writing and flawlessly tells the girl’s story.



While Chandran is the only cast member on stage, some instantly recognisable people join her via voice and video with Maxine Peake providing a voiceover as “Sensible Scout Leader Susan” and Shelley Conn, Philip Glenister, and Isabella Pappas all appearing as pre-recorded video sequences. Chandran interacts with these as if they are with her on stage, bringing a sense of grandeur to a rather intimate story.

 

Whether you have ever been a teenage girl or are a middle-aged old like this reviewer, Instructions For A Teenage Armageddon impresses in its accessibility. Relatability is just one aspect of the show but empathy and basic humanity (qualities I know not everybody has) means it is very easy to be captivated by the story at every turn. Rosie Day’s writing is wonderfully refreshing with its mixture of darkness and light a gritty and authentic look into the complexities of life. With Charithra Chandran’s masterclass performance a marvel to watch, this is a powerful and important show that connects in the most real of ways and fills a gap in a market that had previously lacked a show like this.



Instructions For A Teenage Armageddon plays at the Garrick Theatre on Sundays only until 28th April. Tickets from www.nimaxtheatres.com 

 

Photos by Danny Kaan

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