Tag Archives: Arcola Theatre

Anna Bella Eema

★★★

Arcola Theatre

Anna Bella Eema

Anna Bella Eema

Arcola Theatre

Reviewed – 16th September 2019

★★★

 

has a constant freshness and fascination

 

Receiving its UK premiere at the Arcola Theatre, Pulitzer Prize finalist Lisa D’Amour’s spoken and sung Anna Bella Eema is an incredible piece of storytelling that leaves you open-mouthed – sometimes with wonder and often with mystification.

D’Amour has reworked the play since its 2001 first appearance in Texas and Jessica Lazar’s direction gleefully embraces the curiosity of a wild play that is probably undefinable. But even if we are not always entirely certain of what is going on, the production itself is magnificently polished with three central performances to make you sit up and take notice.

Anna Bella Eema is described as a ghost story for three bodies with three voices. If trying to pin a label on such an eccentric and esoteric work is even worth doing, the nearest one might manage is that it’s a feminist post-modern Samuel Beckett, though even he might have balked at including werewolves, talking foxes, traffic inspectors and a girl made out of mud in the same play.

The audience arrives to discover the three performers (identified only as One, Two and Three in the text) seated on three chairs on a solid rectangle that could define the area of the trailer in which they live or might represent something altogether more earthy and basic. The small set (Anna Lewis) is packed with personal belongings and other items that are sometimes struck or shaken to produce dynamic sound effects.

The performers rarely move from these chairs but colourfully narrate the story of an agoraphobic mum and her sassy ten-year-old daughter who are the only residents of a trailer park which is due to be demolished in favour of a new highway. Perhaps in a bid to ward off the approaching evil the young girl creates a mud girl, or golem, who becomes a friend, an alter-ego and a representation of creative indocility.

The result is a production with hypnotic intensity that doesn’t always work or strike home in the way it should (the fault of the play itself as much as anything), but which has a constant freshness and fascination.

As the young mother who has become a recluse in her trailer, almost oblivious to the world outside, Beverly Rudd is a commanding figure. Unpredictable and ferocious, yet delicate, her Irene/One speaks as easily about being visited by a werewolf as she does seeing a social worker. We sense that the world she inhabits (as trapped in her home as Nell is in her dustbin in Beckett’s Endgame) is often beyond her comprehension and everything she says and does is a deluded retreat from reality.

Equally compelling is Gabrielle Brooks as the precocious and imaginative daughter Anna Bella/Two, a lively and cheeky portrayal of a young girl on her own voyage of discovery, especially during a five-day coma. Brooks shows us a girl as eager to escape the confines of her existence as her mother is to be imprisoned by it.

Natasha Cottriall’s Anna Bella Eema/Three has an air of the mythic but also a down to earth impertinence that reflects the dreams of her “creator” as she changes the lives of the people around her forever.

Music and sound designer Tom Foskett-Barnes is the unseen fourth performer, as a scintillating soundscape is produced in music and effects which are as important to the narrative as the lines themselves.

In some ways this is an inscrutable coming of age story, in others the theme is broader (the invasion of the all-American dream, shades of last year’s film The Florida Project), with all three females being aspects of each other, with a keen desire to fight the unrelenting destructive tide of progress.

Anna Bella Eema’s otherworldly and magical perspectives in this Atticist and Ellie Keel co-production with the Arcola may often lead to bewilderment, but even in the confusion this is American Gothic with a touch of the outlandish, poetic and profound.

 

Reviewed by David Guest

Photography by Holly Revell

 

Anna Bella Eema

Arcola Theatre until 12th October

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Mrs Dalloway | ★★★★ | October 2018
A Hero of our Time | ★★★★★ | November 2018
Stop and Search | ★★ | January 2019
The Daughter-In-Law | ★★★★★ | January 2019
Little Miss Sunshine | ★★★★★ | April 2019
The Glass Menagerie | ★★★★ | May 2019
Radio | ★★★★ | June 2019
Riot Act | ★★★★★ | June 2019
Chiflón, The Silence of the Coal | ★★★★ | July 2019
The Only Thing A Great Actress Needs, Is A Great Work And The Will To Succeed | ★★★ | July 2019

 

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Chiflón, The Silence of the Coal
★★★★

Arcola Theatre

Chiflón

Chiflón, The Silence of the Coal

Arcola Theatre

Reviewed – 24th July 2019

★★★★

 

“There is a poignancy in this precision, and the piece has real emotional heft, reducing at least one audience member to tears last night”

 

Dalston’s CASA festival, showcasing Latin American arts, celebrates its 10th year this year; as a part of it, Chile’s extraordinary puppet theatre, Silencio Blanco, has brought its show, Chiflón, The Silence of the Coal, to the Arcola. It is a simple tale, told without words, over the course of fifty minutes, and is based on the short story The Devil’s Tunnel, by the distinguished Chilean author Baldomero Lillo. Lillo wrote in the latter part of the 19th century into the beginning of the 20th, and having been exposed to the writings of Émile Zola, chose to highlight the appalling suffering endured by Chile’s mining community, in the hope of inspiring reform to working conditions. Mining is still a vital part of Chile’s economy, and, as was brought to the world’s attention in 2010, remains an incredibly dangerous and exploitative industry. Silencio Blanco’s beautiful, bleak, tender creation gives the audience an unforgettable insight into this often-forgotten world.

The puppets themselves are haunting creatures. Their facial features are vague, as if not fully formed; instead, all their expression comes from the expert manipulation of their bodies. Dominga Gutiérrez, Rodolfo Armijo, Camila Pérez, Marco Reyes and Camilo Yáñez are the exceptionally skilful puppeteers, who work together in silent choreography, anonymous in black, with their faces covered, using only their hands and their breath to animate their creations. Watching the young miner, his wife and her friend, we are continually aware of the physical toll of their lives. Backs bow with exhaustion, legs strain with the effort of getting up and sitting down; the miner is racked by a coaldust cough. The attention to detail is phenomenal, and is what lifts these puppets into the human realm – the weary miner scratching his arse on the way home, his wife cracking the eggs into the soup she is preparing for his return, and the malevolent overseer at the mine, caring only for the figures in his ledger. There is a poignancy in this precision, and the piece has real emotional heft, reducing at least one audience member to tears last night.

Silencio Blanco are also masters of atmosphere. In Chiflón, Richardo Pacheco has designed a sparse but nonetheless totally involving soundscape, which brilliantly complements the action, particularly in the scenes down in the mine itself. Minimal lighting is also used to great effect throughout. The scene in which the mining cage slowly descends is an extraordinary piece of theatrical illusion, making that small square of performance space seem like an endless and terrifying drop down into the earth. Credit here to director Santiago Tobar, who really understands the power of visual imagery. At one point, the small studio stage is hung with a seemingly endless line of laundry. Endlessness, again. Which is right. For it is this quality that defines poverty and hardship more than any other. And yet, in those tiny fluttering scraps of cloth, there was also so much tenderness and love. As there was in every touch these simple marionettes exchanged. Even in the darkest of tunnels, somewhere there is always a little light.

 

Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw

 

CASA

Chiflón, The Silence of the Coal

Arcola Theatre until 26th July as part of the CASA Festival 2019

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Forgotten | ★★★ | October 2018
Mrs Dalloway | ★★★★ | October 2018
A Hero of our Time | ★★★★★ | November 2018
Stop and Search | ★★ | January 2019
The Daughter-In-Law | ★★★★★ | January 2019
Little Miss Sunshine | ★★★★★ | April 2019
The Glass Menagerie | ★★★★ | May 2019
Radio | ★★★★ | June 2019
Riot Act | ★★★★★ | June 2019
Margot, Dame, The Most Famous Ballerina In The World | ★★★ | July 2019

 

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