‘Anna Bella Eema’ review

Theatre, Fringe
3 out of 5 stars
Anna Bella Eema, Arcola Theatre, 2019
© Holly Revell Gabrielle Brooks (Two (Annabella)) and Natasha Cottriall (Three (Anna Bella Eema)

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

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Strange creatures haunt a trailer park in Lisa D’Amour’s playful Southern gothic

In a dilapidated American trailer park, perched between a forest and a construction site, lives a werewolf. Probably. Lisa D’Amour’s playful slice of Southern gothic is stuffed full of fantastical elements that can only be 95 percent explained away, melding realism and fantasy in a chaotic blur of fur, teeth and ravening hunger.  

‘Anna Bella Eema’ starts straightforwardly enough. Irene won’t leave her trailer. Her ten-year-old daughter Annabella is desperate to get out. And the local construction workers are longing to evict both of them and bury their home under an interstate highway. But this mother-daughter pairing communicate in a hubbub of mysticism, animal howls and gothic flourishes, never quite speaking the same language. Gradually, they’re drawn into supernatural rites that bring a mysterious new creature to life.

It’s the stuff of any number of TV horror flicks but D’Amour’s work has got a rich style of its own, full of dense and powerful imagery. In Jessica Lazar’s production, its three female performers face the audience and tell us this story like we’re scouts round a campfire, accentuating its beats with seething vocal harmonies. 

Their performances blend wonderfully; Beverley Rudd makes a complicatedly staunch matriarch, Gabrielle Brooks is winningly childlike and expansive as her daughter, and Natasha Cottriall plays the creature they call Anna Bella Eema like a haunted doll, contorting into sinister smiles and stiff, unnatural poses. But even so, this play’s got a kind of woozy energy that gradually peters out over its 95-minute length, despite the endless animation of its performers. Annabella goes on a long dream journey at what feels like it should be the story’s climax, but her moonlit encounters with foxes and owls feel muddled, and don’t illuminate the claustrophobic world of the trailer she lives in. 

‘Anna Bella Eema’ ultimately winds up somewhere pretty prosaic. Its final restoration of normality feels like the cold shock of a campsite shower after the grimy wildness that’s gone before. But even if its story doesn’t ultimately have legs, it definitely has teeth sharp enough to leave a mark.

By: Alice Saville

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