'Instructions for a Teenage Armageddon' review - 'Bridgerton' star Charithra Chandran makes an assured stage debut

Read our review of Rosie Day's solo play Instructions for a Teenage Armageddon, now in performances at the Garrick Theatre to 28 April.

Julia Rank
Julia Rank

Rosie Day’s “one-girl play” Instructions for a Teenage Armageddon was previously performed at Southwark Playhouse in 2022. A former child actor, Day was inspired to write the play in order to place a teenage girl centre stage, rather than as an accessory to the adults. Performed by Day herself, it became the basis for a self-help book of the same name, containing contributions from 30 inspirational women.

The West End production is presented in the form of six performances over six Sundays, and Day has handed performing duties over to Charithra Chandran, best known for playing debutante Edwina Sharma on Bridgerton.

An 80-minute monologue is a tremendous challenge for any actor, let alone one making their professional stage debut. Happily, Chandran delivers with extraordinary assurance in making Eileen, the super-articulate 15-year-old protagonist who has been forced to grow up quickly, a damaged yet dynamic individual in possession of a sparky wit and in desperate need of true understanding.

In a lively production by Georgie Straight, it’s like a snarkier Jacqueline Wilson novel, presenting serious issues with a light, personable touch. Eileen is dealing with the death of her 17-year-old sister Olive from anorexia: her heart gave way due following an argument over a Yorkshire pudding made by Eileen for her Scouts cookery badge. She masks her grief through wisecracks – “At least Olive’s coffin will be light” she quips on the way to the funeral home.

In the aftermath, Eileen is ostracised by her peers who don’t know how to treat a classmate with a dead sibling. Her emotionally distant parents get divorced; both obtain new partners, and they seem to erase Olive from their lives. In a harrowing sequence, she’s groomed by and has non-consensual sex with an older man, resulting in internal injuries – but the doctor, limited by 10-minute appointment slots, doesn’t have time to investigate further and prescribes antidepressants.

Not one for joining in, Eileen is nevertheless a member of the local Scout troupe for the purpose of obtaining all the badges, led by the well-meaning but unimaginative Sensible Susan, voiced by Maxine Peake (to earn the poetry badge, all contributions have to rhyme). The badge-collecting framing device provides some welcome levity but feels a touch underdeveloped – Lord Baden Powell would not have approved of Scouting for such individualistic ends.

Jasmine Swan’s white bedroom set is essentially a blank canvas, onto which video cameos are projected, featuring Shelley Conn and Philip Glenister as the parents and Isabella Pappas as fabulously cool American-accented fairweather friend Ella. These seem unnecessary since Chandran is more than capable of multi-roling, and they don’t make these sketchily written characters any more immediate.

However, it’s touching to see Eileen’s growth in self-knowledge exhibited by imparting a list of life lessons for her tween-aged stepsister about being kind and true to yourself. Anyone who has ever been a teenage girl and felt ignored will find plenty to empathise with here. Few will have much desire to repeat the experience, yet so many of the issues explored, alas, continue well into adulthood.

Instructions for a Teenage Armageddon is at the Garrick Theatre through 28 April. Book Instructions for a Teenage Armageddon tickets on London Theatre.

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Photo credit: Instructions for a Teenage Armageddon (Photo by Danny Kaan)

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