Receiving its UK premiere at the Arcola Theatre, Lisa D’Amour’s Anna Bella Eema is a dazzling southern gothic fairy-tale, where the fantastic emerges from the mundane.
Set upon a base of mud on an abandoned trailer park, stands Anna Lewis’ set of a decrepit mobile home with a selection of random chairs, old, rusty TV trays, books, tape recorders, glass bottles and various other household paraphernalia. Here Annabella (Gabrielle Brooks) lives alone with her eccentric mother Irene (Beverly Rudd), and her mythical creation Anna Bella Eema (Natasha Cottriall). Surviving inside their fantastic imaginations, they discover the magic and danger behind the banality of everyday – but with the construction of an Interstate looming ever closer, their fragile, but still-potent fantasies, are forced into a collision with the agonising, all-too-physical reality.
Fairy tales allow a form of escapism into worlds of make-believe and the supernatural, while often remaining grounded by particular morals and lessons. D’Amour’s odyssey takes the audience back, in a way that few ghost stories do, to the feverish and terrifying world of one’s own adolescence; that dangerous age of defiance, aspiration and desire, and the angst that hunts them. David Doyle’s simplistic light design is representative of the deserted home, basic and dilapidated, with amber hues of humid southern state heat. The form of the play sees spoken word shift suddenly to sung aria. Creating a texture of sound, Chris Sidorfsky’s original score helps theatricalize the characters inner lives, whilst sound designer Tom Foskett-Barnes’ ambient soundscapes shift into the voices of the characters, creating a movement and rhythm to support the shifting points of view of the story.
Anna Bella Eeema is steeped in metaphors and symbols that teeter on breaking the audience out of the story’s spell, thus risking the immersion of the piece. The virtuosic threesome of Brooks, Rudd & Cottriall, however, keep the audience engaged enough to distract from the occasional authorial whimsy – Rudd is perfect as the sturdy and fearful Irene, and Brooks and Cottriall both glorious in their respective roles as the lonely child and the impish mythical Golem. Similarly Jessica Lazar’s direction and Jennifer Fletcher’s movement are each inventive and organic, blurring the lines between the supernatural and the everyday.
A harsh reality about mental health, growing old, power, resistance and the will to survive, Anna Bella Eema plays at the Arcola Theatre until Saturday 12th October.