Review: ★★★★ Anomaly, Old Red Lion

The recent sexual misconduct allegations against Weinstein, Spacey and R.Kelly gives new playwright, Liv Warden’s new play Anomaly a terrifying immediacy. This play explores how the women in the perpetrator’s life bear the brunt of the crime, with society much more comfortable holding women to blame. Warden attacks this theory head-on, introducing sisters: Piper, Penny and Polly Preston, the daughters of media mogul and film-industry power-house, Philip Preston. 


It’s 6am and all three daughters discover that their father has been arrested for assaulting their mother. Almost instantly we see the wildly different personalities of these girls; the eldest, Piper (Natasha Cowley) meets the news in a pragmatic manner, attempting to calm her emotional, glamorous sister, Penny (Katherine Samuelson). It’s clear that Piper is there to fix legal matters, and Penny is the flashy PR machine. The youngest, Polly (Alice Handoll), is an outcast. After leaving rehab, she breaks into her parents’ empty house after the scene, her kooky and endearing presence make her a natural narrator. Through Polly, we are slowly fed the Preston back story. 


Each woman is scrutinised, whether it be Penny for her body and sparkling “reality TV” personality, Piper by her associates at her father’s film company blackmailing her to “fix the situation”, or Polly, the mysterious sister, with the press longing to know exactly what she really thinks. Never do we hear of Philip Preston himself facing up to what he has done, Polly wittingly describing him as “a cockroach in a hurricane”.


Handoll’s Polly is easily the most endearing of the three – through her, we see the raw truth, told with ease and humour. She discusses her father’s sordid affairs that took place throughout their childhood, from their nineteen year old Au Pair, to a young actress. We see Philip’s poison seep through their lives, as they lose a nanny they loved and see their mother beaten black and blue. Penny talks of how ashamed she was when she turned her hate onto her mother for asking their Au Pair, Manon, to leave, rather than hating her father for his actions. Time and time again we see hatred projected onto women. 


The set (designed by Charlotte Dennis) makes a strong statement; all three women are trapped in a white box with a rip down the middle revealing a scarlet red newspaper page. It’s the three women alone who take up the stage, and outsiders are voice-overs. These voice-overs become progressively more outrageous, probing each sister to reveal more about their lives with Philip Preston. How did they not know? Why did they not tell sooner? 


Warden cleverly brings the three sisters together in a dramatic, sensationalist crescendo as they all appear on a radio show for an exclusive interview. Piper and Penny put on their best PR show, defending their family and their father. Meanwhile, Polly comes out with the heart-breaking truth of it all; scarred from her father’s past abuse, she crumbles. Warden strikingly contrasts this with an obnoxious, showy radio host, oblivious to the emotional harm the interview is causing all three, and pushing for a story. I can’t help but be reminded of the Black Mirror episode, Fifteen Million Merits, where human misery is celebrated in a game show format. I can see why Warden chooses to do this though; it’s dark, shocking and throws the point in our face without being “preachy”.


This is the #MeToo play we’ve all been waiting for. Warden artfully puts the female voice first, pushing us to check ourselves when it comes to the handling of famous sexual predators – who are the real victims here? Slickly directed by Adam Small and passionately acted by Cowley, Samuelson and Handoll, Anomaly is bold, unapologetic and fierce. 



Tess Kennedy

Images: Headshot Toby

Tess Kennedy
Tess Kennedy

Tess Kennedy moved to London to be closer to her first love: theatre. It’s just a coincidence that she’s also now much closer to her second love, Idris Elba. During the week, Tess is a Social Media Manager, but in her spare time she enjoys reading, singing, yoga, pina coladas — although she can take or leave getting caught in the rain. Tess has been writing for Upper Circle since January 2019, where she’s seen more Fringe than Jonathan Van Ness, as well as plenty of one-woman-shows and musicals. Although she’s a big fan of the musical genre, Tess draws the line at Cats. That’s not because she’s a dog person though – Tess loves her family cats more than most humans – it’s because the visual of Idris Elba meowing in a skintight leotard gave her paws for thought.


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