Tag Archives: Jennifer Fletcher

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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Outlying Islands

Outlying Islands

King’s Head Theatre

Outlying Islands

Outlying Islands

King’s Head Theatre

Reviewed – 15th January 2019



“Jessica Lazar’s accomplished direction brings out the very best in her four-strong cast, and it is clear how grounded they each feel in the play’s reality”


David Greig’s Outlying Islands was first produced in 2002, and has not been seen in London since then. It is an exceptional piece of dramatic writing, and Atticist’s intense and intelligent revival serves it well.

It is 1939; John and Robert are two keen young ornithologists, fresh out of Cambridge, who have been sent by ‘the Ministry’ to study and document the extraordinary and hitherto unexamined bird population on a remote island in the Outer Hebrides. They will spend four weeks on the island – 40 miles from the nearest inhabited land – with no radio and no boat. Their only company will be the island’s leaseholder and his niece. The stage is thus set for a compelling play examining our relationship with wildness – in nature, in ourselves, and in one another. What happens to us when we are divorced from conventional societal mores? What is the role of science in our understanding of the natural world? The play is set at the outset of a long and bloody world war, in which millions of people are set to die; many of them young men, with an unwavering sense of faith and moral duty. What do those things actually mean? And what is it, really, to be free? These are big questions, and it takes a playwright at the height of their powers to wrestle with them without sacrificing humour, warmth and the wonderful messiness of being human. David Greig is that writer here, and is supported by deft direction and design and a very able cast.

The production design perfectly reflects the island’s peculiar and seductive mix of austerity and profound, instinctive, animal, pleasure. There is nothing showy here, and yet we are continually aware – not least owing to Christopher Preece’s excellent sound design – of the wind, the waves, the birds, and the earthy warmth and comfort of the disused chapel. The huge wooden door, which separates the two worlds, dominates the set, and although the boys’ early slapstick interaction with it didn’t quite convince, it nonetheless remains a powerful physical metaphor throughout the piece, and the dangerous energy of the liminal space is palpable when the door is held open for a time in the gathering storm of the play’s second half.

Jessica Lazar’s accomplished direction brings out the very best in her four-strong cast, and it is clear how grounded they each feel in the play’s reality. Jack McMillan is heartbreakingly believable as John – full of sweetness and enthusiasm, but ultimately unable to break through the many societal constrictions placed on him. By way of contrast, Tom Machell’s Robert is incisive, impulsive, mercurial; at home in this wild place from the moment he steps off the boat. Ken Drury is a splendid hoary presence as Kirk, and demonstrates considerable skill in his later transformation into the upright English Captain come to take the boys home, and the island’s lease-holders back to the mainland. And surrounded by all these men – a new circumstance for this solitary, cinema-loving creature – Ellen ultimately makes the island her own. Rose Wardlaw gives an extraordinary performance, and is utterly mesmerising throughout. As we watch her fill her lungs with air, stretch out her cramped wings and embrace the wildness within her, we too are transported to a place of dangerous possibility.

Outlying Islands is Atticist’s second production at the King’s Head, after its barnstorming revival of Steven Berkoff’s East, and its first as an Associate Company. It marks a fantastic beginning to an exciting artistic partnership; long may it continue.


Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw

Photography by Clive Barda


Outlying Islands

King’s Head Theatre until 2nd February


Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
And Tell Sad Stories of the Deaths of Queens | ★★★★ | August 2018
Hamilton (Lewis) | ★★★ | September 2018
Canoe | ★★★½ | October 2018
La Traviata | ★★★★ | October 2018
No Leaves on my Precious Self | ★★ | October 2018
Beauty and the Beast: A Musical Parody | ★★★★★ | November 2018
Brexit | ★★★★★ | November 2018
Buttons: A Cinderella Story | ★★★★ | November 2018
Momma Golda | ★★★ | November 2018
The Crumple Zone | ★★ | November 2018


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