A disturbing and traumatic exploration of child abuse and neglect.
In this harrowing one-woman show Gabrielle MacPherson plays Willa, a traumatised young woman, who hasn’t left her home for 30 years, as her controlling and dysfunctional parents have kept her safe from the ‘bad’ outside.
True to a theatre production this monologue takes place on a small messy stage with few changes in camera angle. A tannoy speaker and Dictaphone make regular interruptions and there is a projection of some of the activity on the wall. The stage has two locked doors and is strewn with papers, books and boxes.
Willa flits around her personal history as though stuck in her childhood searching for “evidence”. We learn she has an unfaithful father who is a publisher and collector of old books. There are love messages from him to women but not to her mother. At school the marks on Willa’s body are noticed and her tearful mother is questioned. Visitors with clipboards visit the house, during which time her father absents himself, and Willa is questioned under the powerful glare of her mother about bad people hurting her.
This leads to the family fleeing to another home after which Willa is home schooled and never leaves the house. She lives in a locked walk-in wardrobe with darkness and controlled food, she is told that she is lucky. Her secret torch allows her to read and draw in the dark where she is safe.
Willa talks of her neglect and abuse in a ‘matter of fact’ way, never revealing the details but always alluding. She is constantly alert to knocks at the door and sounds, often hiding under the table.
There are further revelations about her parent’s relationship, father away for long periods and mother having strange men at the breakfast table talking with her shuddering daughter who is now becoming an adult.
Eventually it emerges that the male voice questioning Willa over the tannoy system wants to know what she has done to her parents. Willa is evasive at first but she ‘had to do it – to them’. We discover that Willa is now at a witness questioning room for children and vulnerable adults and that a gruesome crime has been committed.
Gabrielle MacPherson portrays Willa as a disturbed and abused young woman who we are still unable to empathise with because of her emotional remoteness. The story is wonderfully written as it weaves through events selectively choosing what to reveal and what to omit leaving much to hint and implication. Karis Crimson’s direction ensure that the production is edgy and uncomfortable. The audio may work better in a theatre but doesn’t transfer to the online format with much of the spoken audio being indecipherable.
The production is unsettling in its exploration of how childhood trauma, abuse and neglect can impact on the emotional stability of the victim.
Reviewer: Bob Towers
Reviewed: 20th February 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★