Tag Archives: Alex Brenner




Arcola Theatre

POSSESSION at the Arcola Theatre



“Sasha Hails’ script is brave and confident.”


On a muggy Monday night, we descended into the bowels of the former paint factory. Steep rakes on either side of the stage, coupled with the stage floor being covered in a rough textured sand paper, evoked a gladiatorial event. People fanned themselves with programmes, murmuring about the warmth. And then the play began. From the first scene, where a pregnant woman remains still and strained, against a busy motif of a London train, Possession had the audience in the palm of its hand.

Possession is a mutli-generational collection of moments, which come together to tell the story of a life, and a country. It is at once personal and political, both a call to arms, and a quiet tragedy.

We follow Hope (Diany Samba-Bandza), who is both protagonist and narrator. Hope is born at Victoria station to Kasambayi (Sarah Amankwah) newly arrived from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Hope’s path later crosses with Alice Young (Dorothea Myer-Bennett), a foreign correspondent who is struggling to juggle her work and being a new mother. Into this contemporary world is weaved the story of Alice Seeley-Harris (also played by Myer-Bennett), a Victorian missionary’s wife in King Leopold’s Congo. Across London and the DRC this story unfurls itself, not relying on linear narrative, but following theme and character, to build a complex and rich portrait of these women.

Sasha Hails’ script is brave and confident. It sweeps across generations and characters, knitting together a past and a present, with hopes for the future. There are moments where it could feel weighed down with exposition, there is a lot of discussion about the cobalt mines in modern day DRC and the atrocities that are associated with them. But it doesn’t. The script is informative and impactful, without slipping into preachiness.

The spirit and passion of the play is let loose through Oscar Pearce’s direction and Sarah Beaton’s design. Every inch of the space is used and there is an incredible sense of movement while also allowing for moments of pause and reflection. Photographs are projected onto flowing jagged sheets which hang at the back of the stage. These are a combination of the photographs that the real Alice Seeley-Harris took, and present-day photos of the characters. The whole effect enhances the tangle of time which the play explores.

It is a tight, strong ensemble of five. Nedum Okonyia shows an impressive range, traversing ages, eras and nationalities with equal energy and poise. Milo Twomey shines as a conflicted Victorian missionary as well as bringing depth to Alice’s journalist lover who is essentially a sounding board for her inner conflict.

However, it is the three women who really steal the show. Samba-Bandza is warm and bubbly, which sets the tone for the whole piece. Myer-Bennett straddles the two generations, bringing to life the age-old question of a mother’s place and allows the audience the chance to empathise, if not necessarily sympathise with her characters. But the real star is Sarah Amankwah. We watch as Kasambayi, a quiet, proud and incredibly private woman, is empowered and emboldened to tell her story, and to grow beyond the horrors of her past. Amankwah brings a stillness to the frenetic movement of the play, and an undertone of quiet wisdom and grief.

Possession is a tapestry of memories, an informative and fascinating story, and a beautiful character study.




Reviewed on 19th June 2023

by Auriol Reddaway

Photography by Alex Brenner



Previously reviewed at this venue:


Under The Black Rock | ★★★ | March 2023
The Mistake | ★★★★ | January 2023
The Poltergeist | ★★½ | October 2022
The Apology | ★★★★ | September 2022
L’Incoronazione Di Poppea | ★★★★ | July 2022
Rainer | ★★★★★ | October 2021
The Game Of Love And Chance | ★★★★ | July 2021
The Narcissist | ★★★ | July 2021


Click here to read all our latest reviews


Henry I

Henry I


Reading Abbey Ruins

HENRY I  at Reading Abbey Ruins


Henry I

“a stand-out exemplar for other locally-rooted companies wishing to make drama that speaks compellingly to their audiences”


When Game of Thrones and other big budget spectaculars grab the headlines and audiences, how can 900 year old stories be brought to the stage in a way that will speak to modern audiences? This is the challenge with which Reading based company Rabble have been engaged since their founding in 2012.

This latest production is their biggest yet. Based on a show that premiered in 2016, it follows the life of King Henry I of England from the moment his father William the Conqueror died in 1087, to his own death 48 years later. This is raw and visceral theatre. The writing is not cod historical but vivid and gripping.

Eleventh century lives were short and men’s war-making was brutal. But this play is also feminist to its core, placing women at its heart, both in casting women actors in male roles and in depicting the pivotal roles women played in the story.

Rabble’s vision is also community-based and often site specific. Over 500 members of the local community were involved in bringing this epic to the stage. It sits in a sequence of linked history plays the company have developed. They appear amongst the professionals in the show and continue to be involved in workshops around the play which tours to Winchester and the Actor’s Church in London after its Reading run. In Reading it is performed in the ruins of the great abbey Henry I built to expiate his memory, and where he lies buried. There’s a further frisson. The final scene is performed on the very spot where the events depicted occurred.

Beth Flintoff’s Henry I uses a rich variety of story-telling techniques to bring a great swathe of history to dazzling life. Characters speak directly to their audience about their future. Climactic crowd scenes play out in slow motion with compelling lighting effects by designer Michael Brenkley. Many of the costumes by Sarah Jane Booth are a lush riot of satin and velvet and her spare set suits the full-on and physical drama to a tee.

Amongst an outstanding cast, Toby W Davies is excellent as Henry I. Whilst some other characters occasionally veer close to parody, he gives a compellingly real performance of vulnerability and struggle amongst all the rabble-rousing. Georgie Fellows is his queen and Mabel. Like the exceptional Amy Conachan (Adela Countess of Blois), she gives a blisteringly feisty performance of a woman at the heart of the action.

Greg Barnett is a wonderful embodiment of lip-smacking evil as Robert de Belleme. Mark Middleton is a peevishly inadequate brother to Henry and has some moments of fine comedy. Gabrielle Sheppard cuts a swaggering dash as William Rufus and William Atheling. Anjelica Serra gives an equally energetic and compelling performance in this high octane show that delighted the first night crowd. Joseph Black has huge stage presence as Bishop Roger and Conran.

Many other performers give wonderfully energetic and committed performances in this brilliant show which is a warmly recommended triumph for Rabble. It is also a stand-out exemplar for other locally-rooted companies wishing to make drama that speaks compellingly to their audiences. Congratulations to Director Hal Chambers for bringing this production to such electrifying life.



Reviewed on 15th June 2023

by David Woodward

Photography by Alex Brenner


Further dates:

12th – 15th July 2023
Winchester Great Hall, Winchester

20th – 22nd July 2023
St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden, London




Previously reviewed by David:


Hedda Gabler | ★★★★★ | Reading Rep Theatre | February 2023
Cybil Service | ★★★★ | VAULT Festival 2023 | January 2023
Barefoot in the Park | ★★★★ | The Mill at Sonning | July 2022
Spike | ★★★★ | Watermill Theatre Newbury | January 2022
Dorian | ★★★★ | Reading Rep Theatre | October 2021


Click here to read all our latest reviews