Advertisement

Instructions for a Teenage Armageddon: Bridgerton star Charithra Chandran makes the best of meagre material

 (Danny Kaan)
(Danny Kaan)

Bridgerton star Charithra Chandran makes a confident stage debut in this admirable attempt to address the mental health of teenage girls. Unfortunately, Rosie Day’s 80-minute monologue is also vague, predictable and stuffed with clichés.At 13 our heroine – unnamed until near the end – sees her older sister die of a heart attack induced by anorexia. By 17 she’s endured family breakup, bullying and serious sexual assault but somehow acquired a zen-like ability to see her younger self, and life, clearly.Neither the narrative nor the emotional developments ring true. Worse, the serious content is repeatedly punctured by excruciating ‘comic’ voiceovers from Maxine Peake as the jovially northern leader of the Scout Troop to which she belongs.Director Georgie Staight previously directed Day in her own script at Southwark Playhouse: the addition of star names have not made it fit for the West End. Beside recent, inventive one-person shows from Sarah Snook and Andrew Scott – and even misfiring but bold offerings from Billy Crudup and Suzy Izzard (also known as Eddie) – this feels pedestrian, a by-the-numbers exploration of trauma.

 (Danny Kaan)
(Danny Kaan)

Chandran is a likeable presence onstage and makes the best of meagre material. At first, her character has a brittle carapace of cynicism, quipping that after four years of her sister starving herself “at least the coffin will be light” for those carrying it.She snipes at her parents (Shelley Conn and Philip Glenister, seen on video) as they drive to the funeral home and creates broad caricatures of other adults. The most effective moments come when she evokes the unease of schoolmates, unable to express sympathy and fearful of “catching” an eating disorder.Things go seriously awry when she meets Ella (Isabella Pappas, also seen on video), a fag-chuffing American bitch in the Mean Girls mode, even though the story is apparently set in Acton. Through Ella, Day tries to weave together ideas about peer pressure, toxic online culture, grooming and consent. Chandran brings wet-eyed vulnerability to this section which is harrowing but incoherent. The ending is too pat and frankly awful.I don’t doubt the sincerity of anyone involved. Not Day, who’s worked for 10 years with mental health charity STEM4. Not Staight or Chandran. Not Nimax Theatres, whose decision to schedule this show for six Sundays at the Garrick alongside the wonderful For Black Boys… epitomises the flexibility and openness they’ve brought to the West End. Teenage Armageddon is freighted with good intentions. But as drama it simply isn’t good enough.Garrick Theatre, Sundays to 28 April; thegarricktheatre.co.uk