Arcola Theatre (venue)
16 September 2019 (released)
20 September 2019
Down an alley, just off the hustle of Kingsland Road, The Arcola Theatre has a reputation for producing bold new productions with exceptional young creative teams. Anna Bella Eema certainly fulfils expectations with magnetic performances from all three actors, in this tightly wrought coming of age fantasy set in a deserted trailer park.
US play-write Lisa D’Amour is by no means a new-comer, with theatre credits including Airline Highway (2015) and Detroit (National Theatre), which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 2011 and won the Obie Award for best new American play. Anna Bella Eema could be described as performance poetry at is very best. There is little in the way of action, most of the story is ‘reported’ by the characters and the language is slippery and evocative. Yet it never feels affected or distancing and it’s often very funny. D’Amour has the ability to imbed her characters in the worlds they inhabit, so that you laugh with recognition at their strangeness.
Warm, amber lights come up on a trio of women staring out from their clutter of old books and frayed fabrics. This is the home of Irene and her daughter Annabella. The rest of the inhabitants of the trailer park are long gone and Irene, who licks stamps for a living is afraid to step out of her shrinking world. Beverly Rudd brings extraordinary subtlety and humour to the role of Irene, conveying the painful attachment to her daughter who she knows she must lose. Annabella (Gabrielle Brooks),desperate for company builds a girl out of mud and names her Annabella Eema - a mesmerising, impish performance from Natasha Cottriall. Brooks has such range and intensity that you fall in love with this frustrated little girl, freed by her vivid imagination.
Running at 95 minutes straight through, Jessica Lazar’s production maintains absolute precision from start to finish with haunting close harmony singing, sharp changes in mood and a final emotional punch. The only dip of attention from the audience came during an extended dream-scape when Annabella travels around the earth, with a hyena a cat and a fox. D’Amour is at her best when she balances fantasy with reality less obscurely. Having been drawn so deeply into Irene’s world, the moment when we suddenly see it from the perspective of the transport policeman, peering into the decaying trailer, is a thrilling switch. The magical and disturbing world of Irene and AnnaBella defies conventional portrayals of people living on the margins and the final roar of traffic that erases their world is incredibly moving.
Photo credit: Holly Revell