Review: INSTRUCTIONS FOR A TEENAGE ARMAGEDDON, Garrick Theatre

An affecting handbook of what teenage depression looks like and how to overcome it.

By: Mar. 18, 2024
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Review: INSTRUCTIONS FOR A TEENAGE ARMAGEDDON, Garrick Theatre
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https://cloudimages.broadwayworld.com/3stars.pngGirlhood comes to the Garrick. Rosie Day’s moving one-woman play Instructions for a Teenage Armageddon transfers to the West End helmed by Bridgerton’s Charithra Chandran. Filled to the brim with trigger warnings and imbued with the blunt honesty and pure emotion owned by young girls only, the piece fits perfectly within the recent industry shift towards pink feminism.

Directed by Georgie Staight, it’s a heartbreaking depiction of teenage depression and a touching journey through grief and loss. Eileen is barely a teenager when her sister dies of complications from an eating disorder. Suddenly turned into the only child of a grieving couple, she convinces herself that it’s her fault Olive died. Her parents are wrapped up tight in their own pain and her friends disappear. Unable to address the elephant in the room, unsurprisingly, she falls in with a bad crowd.

It’s a Zillennial show that explains a Zillennial audience; a production for the tumblr generation in need to heal their inner teen. Day writes a delight of a script featuring the darkest of humours as a coping mechanism. Inappropriate and grouchy jokes move towards sophisticated moments of intense sadness where Chandran gives everything she's got. Perhaps due to nerves, her character's brashness and silver tongue have her come off as slightly too scripted for much of the start. She whizzes through the beginning, biting each rebuttal with a delicious venom that sounds too artificial and calculated to seem a natural flow of thought. 

Instructions for a Teenage Armageddon
Charithra Chandran in Instructions for a Teenage Armageddon

Once she relaxes into it and allows Eileen to lower her defences, Chandran fully delivers. She offers a young person who has a hard time adjusting to a life plagued with the unsaid. Her mum and dad ignore her needs, neglecting to provide her with the tools that would help her mend, so she remains stuck. She disconnects and spends her days as a casual observer, occasionally acting upon the wrong choices. Teenage Armageddon begs its public to understand how difficult it is to grow up as a girl with trauma.

Staight suspends the setting in an anonymous bedroom. A muted periwinkle coats every object in a numb monotone. It’s a manifestation of Eileen’s depression, still what we’d normatively define as “girly”, but devoid of any energy or spirit. Designed by Jasmine Swan, the set is washed by Dan Light’s projections while Rory Beaton focuses the soliloquy with dynamic lighting. The visuals give a punchy pace to the direction. There’s one instance when the optical aspect of the piece reaches a perfect harmony with Chandran’s performance. Lights are pulled from the space, dwindling down to a thin chiaroscuro while silence surrounds the last crack in Eileen’s armour.

Instructions for a Teenage Armageddon
Charithra Chandran in Instructions for a Teenage Armageddon

It’s a chance for Day to explore another side of Eileen's emotional struggle, giving a directly feminist spin, introducing grooming and sexual violence in the mix. It might sound like overkill on paper, but it helps to paint a full picture of Eileen as a complex, complicated individual. The text is imbued with a refined awareness of the social compromises and circumstantial hypocrisies that surround coming of age at the same time as the death of a loved one. Her mental health exacerbates the alienation and loneliness she feels, leading to the extreme actions of someone who wants to grow up too fast.

Eileen’s parents simply aren’t equipped with the ability to handle everything that’s going on in their lives. Their daughter has to witness her family fracture and recompose separately while her body and psychology change all by herself. We see their grief through her eyes, resentful and envious of the attention they gave to her sister’s six-year battle with anorexia. It’s a poignant show and it could be pivotal, life-changing even, if seen by the right person.

All in all, the Garrick might be a little too big for the production, which thrived back in Southwark’s intimate location. This iteration may not have the same verve as when Day was in the role, but allows more audience in and does the job smoothly. The leading name will attract new patrons and the brilliant writing will hook them. It’s an excellent gateway.

Instructions for a Teenage Armageddon runs at the Garrick Theatre every Sunday until 28 April.

Photo credit: Danny Kaan




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