Once in a while, amidst the jugglers, glee clubs and stand-up routines of the festival that you dodge or indulge, you may come across a piece of theatre that instantly knocks you off your feet by its sheer astonishing bravado and unforgettable strength. I’m glad to have found that piece already this year with this haunting, intimate and devastating drama.
Inside is the grim tale of a young woman who is trapped within the confines of an unknown captor’s basement. With only rodents and a dead plant as companions, the woman makes video diaries to her mother and increasingly delves back into her memories and subconscious as a means of escape from the horrific predicament she finds herself. With such a delicate subject matter it is important that a production of this kind is not treated for shock value and Strawberry Blonde Theatre Company always ensures that this is primarily a character study that drives the play forward.
For a character study like this to work, the weight of the show falls heavily on our lead actress. Rosie MacPherson engulfs the role with a remarkable bravery and intensity; it is a richly textured, impeccable performance. Clearly a labour of love, McPherson has been developing, researching and writing this show for some time and her commitment to the production crosses over into her performance. Looking like an old broken china doll, our heroine’s frail figure dominates proceedings and her fragile state of mind is sputtered out through a shaky, raspy voice. It looks like this woman is hanging together by a thread and her childlike recounting of memories past and dialogue to imaginary characters is heartbreaking. Most devastating is the video diary she keeps to her mother, who we are unaware if is receiving these messages. Whilst there is small sparks of humour to be found in the dialogue, it doesn’t last long as it only adds emphasis to the situation. As the years have passed that this woman has been trapped, she has struggled to break free from her childhood ways and slowly slipped in and out of reality. Whilst the chilling story unfolds it can become unsure where this piece is going to go, until we are taken down even further darker areas as the controversial subject matter of Stockholm Syndrome rears its head and we are taken to an unsettling ending.
The direction from Ed Lilly is as taut and disciplined as McPherson’s performance. With a background in short films, the director has brought a creepy, sinister almost horror-like cinematic quality to the production. A wise choice was in making the performance more of a one woman play as opposed to a storytelling monologue. Not having any contact with the main character not only deepens the lonely state of the protagonist but also invites us to feel completely helpless with her. The set is extremely impressive, a dank basement room is replicated onstage down to the finest minute detail amongst the grotty props, and the use of sparse sound effects of the captor upstairs brings a resonance to the proceedings.
Its dark, chilling subject matter may put some people off but for those audience members who are willing to delve into the shadows, this may be one of the most unforgettable pieces of theatre that they will ever see.