Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is front and centre in a searing and poignant new play from Walkley Award-winning ABC journalist and author Sally Sara.
Semi-autobiographical, the world premiere of Stop Girl starts in 2011 when Suzie (Sheridan Harbridge) is in the final weeks of reporting from the Afghan capital, Kabul. There to catch up with her is her best friend – the pair went to school together – from ABC marketing, Bec (Amber McMahon). She has flown in to write a story about the woman who started the ABC’s Afghanistan bureau.
The Taliban has laid waste to the country and Suzie has been witness to much of the atrocities up close and personal. Explosions and gunfire are commonplace, but when a bomb goes off close to where Bec and Suzie are speaking, Bec is understandably startled … although Suzie takes it in her stride. Assisting Suzie throughout her time in the country is a local who trained as an engineer, Atal (Mansoor Noor).
While she has been away, Suzie’s father passed away. Suzie didn’t attend the funeral, but her dad wanted her to scatter his ashes and her mother, Marg (Toni Scanlan), is out to ensure that Suzie follows through. Suzie and her mum speak regularly via Skype and Marg is understandably concerned about her daughter’s welfare.
Once back in Sydney, Suzie finds it increasingly difficult to settle back into “normal” life. Having travelled and reported on dozens of world trouble spots, she finds regular stories mundane. More than that, she is having deeply troubling “visions” of what went on in Afghanistan. Before long she has a total meltdown.
We also learn more about Bec’s back story, while Atal has made his way to Australia too, having left his family behind. He’s decided to try to stay here permanently, but that requires Suzie’s help.
Stop Girl has huge impact because it rings true. The script – the first draft of which Sally Sara wrote in 2016 – is a mixture of imagination, her experiences and interviews with the people who inspired the characters. Dramatic, with humorous moments, Stop Girl reveals in no uncertain terms the price one can pay by doing one’s job.
Suzie’s is a driven personality and Sheridan Harbridge does a fine job enabling us to reach into her world. She transitions her character from professional detachment to overwrought and we feel every bump. Amber McMahon ensures the different sides to Bec’s persona are given strong voice, having followed a far more conventional path, but still suffering heartache. I was also taken by Mansoor Noor, who realises Atal with sensitivity and conviction, a life in which bloodshed and death were all too commonplace.
The set is minimalist, consisting of little more than a wash basin and a few pieces of furniture. It is left to the words on the page, video snippets – which appear on a large screen behind the actors – and the acting to carry the day. Sally Sara’s writing is insightful and revelatory. She immediately connects with the audience, reaching deep inside us and extracting an emotional response. Director Anne-Louise Sarks sheets home the power of the dialogue. The central tenet of the narrative is how to find peace after pain.
Incidentally, the title of the play is drawn from an ugly incident that Suzie witnessed while in Afghanistan. Also featuring Deborah Galanos as a psychologist, Stop Girl – which runs for 100 minutes without interval – is playing at Belvoir Street Theatre until 25th April, 2021.
Other reviews you might enjoy:
- Prima Facie (Griffin) – theatre review
- Fierce (Theatre Works) – theatre review
- Two Hearts (KXT) – theatre review
Alex First is a Melbourne based journalist and communications specialist. He contributes to The Blurb on film and theatre.